Papalii and Hunt can lead the way
IT'S the one time of the year as a former player that you get the itch to put the boots back on again - State of Origin.
Tonight will mark the start of the 39th Origin series and if there's one thing we've learnt it's that the team that wins game one is likely to go on and win the series.
In fact, the team that has won game one has gone on to win 29 of the 39 series played.
When you look at this Queensland side it's easy to put a circle around Kalyn Ponga, Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster as the key men, but if the Maroons' forward pack doesn't get on the front foot these three won't get the chance to weave their magic.
Queensland need a forward leader, someone to take the game to this Blues pack and take them apart - and for mine, that man is Josh Papalii.
His form this year for the Raiders has been outstanding.
He's averaging 55 minutes and 134m per game, and Queensland will need another big effort from him tonight.
There's been plenty of talk about Ben Hunt and whether or not he can last the full 80 minutes, but I'm not buying into that.
Hunt is one of the smartest players in the game and I think his selection in the No.9 jersey for Queensland will prove a masterstroke. He has the ability to do for the Maroons what Damien Cook does for the Blues.
Hunt is smart enough to move himself to an edge in defence if he needs a breather, and if he has to come off then Queensland have the ability to cover him with Moses Mbye and Michael Morgan in the side.
The Blues have some serious metre eaters in their side and you can guarantee that David Klemmer and Tyson Frizell will come out breathing fire.
Papalii, Josh McGuire and Matt Gillett's respond to that will dictate the tone of the match.
If the Maroons can control the middle and give Hunt, Munster and Ponga some room to move it will be a good night for Queensland.
There are few players in the game more dangerous with the ball in their hand than Cook.
He has played every minute of every game for the Rabbitohs this year and leads the NRL in dummy half runs and try assists.
It's Cook's ability to get over the advantage line that will open up the game for players such as Cody Walker, James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell.
There are few, if any weaknesses in this NSW side, but if there is one concern for the Blues it has to be the form of Nathan Cleary.
He was one of the first NSW players picked last year, but given the form of the Panthers this year there's been plenty of question marks over his selection.
The positive for Cleary is that his strongest areas - his defence and kicking game - will shine in the Origin arena.
There is strike power across the park in this Blues side with Cook, Tedesco, Mitchell and Walker able to blow a game open from anywhere, but for those players to shine they need their forward pack to win the battle in the middle.
Cook is the most dangerous player in the game out of dummy half and if the Blues forwards can provide him with quick play-the-balls and allow him to engage his running game it will bring players such as Walker, Tedesco and Mitchell into the match.
Of course I'm tipping Queensland, but the thing that worries me is that game one is normally a grind in the forwards and if the Maroons pack doesn't go forward and get big carries it will play right into the Blues' hands.
I'm tipping this to be a low- scoring game with Munster to score the matchwinner in a 14-8 victory for Queensland.