Pressure on Blues: "Public expectation will be enormous"
MAROONS legend Wally Lewis has put the blowtorch on the Blues ahead of Origin II in Sydney on Sunday night.
While the hosts can wrap up just their second State of Origin series triumph in 13 years with a win on home soil, Lewis insists they will be feeling significant heat after their blistering start in Melbourne a fortnight ago.
Just as Queensland has a history of rising to the challenge when their backs are against the wall, NSW has a history of caving under pressure.
"Playing in Sydney, while there is going to be great support for New South Wales, it can also place a fair bit of pressure on them," Lewis said.
"The public expectation will be enormous.
"Previously we've seen them fold. If they fold again, it will be absolutely shattering for them.
"It would be backbreaking. And that's a good thing for the Queenslanders. They would enjoy having that on their side."
The Maroons have fought back from being 0-1 down six times in Origin history - twice under Lewis' watch, in 1982 and 1987, and four times during their recent domination: 2006, 2008, 2013 and 2017.
On two of those occasions they've managed to hit back and win game two in enemy territory in Sydney, including last year.
That result will no doubt be fresh in the minds of all.
"I can virtually guarantee you some of the questions they will get asked by the Sydney media, again and again and again - 'You've been in this position before, you've been under pressure, are you going to fold? Is it going to happen again?'" Lewis said.
"If I was in Queensland camp I would be saying, 'I don't see us as the ones battling here.'"
Lewis was captain of the Queensland side that travelled to the SCG in 1987 needing a win to keep the series alive after a 16-20 loss at Lang Park.
The Blues had won seven of the previous eight clashes between the teams.
But in shocking conditions and in front of a hostile crowd, the visitors won 12-6 before sealing the series with another victory back in Brisbane.
Last year at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, Queensland was staring down the barrel of going 0-2 down in the series when they trailed by four points with five minutes left in the game, before Dane Gagai emerged the hero.
Lewis said he would always embrace "the us against them" mentality to galvanise his team, and he expected the current Maroons contingent to do the same.
"It will bond the team," he said.
He knows full well, however, that it is a golden opportunity for Brad Fittler's new-look Blues, provided they can stand up mentally.
Lewis said the departure of Queensland greats Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk from the Origin arena had a profound impact on the Maroons camp.
"We were missing over 150 games of Origin experience in game one," Lewis said, adding the then-injured Billy Slater to the list of absentees.
"That's something quite remarkable. But it was also placing a direct challenge on those who were there - could they or couldn't they (step up)."
The Maroons were placed firmly on the back foot by the speed of eventual man-of-the- match James Tedesco, Josh Addo-Carr and co.
"We didn't perform too well in game one, and it is on demand this time they produce their best," Lewis said.
"If they don't, it will be something they will never forget for the rest of their lives.
"Back in my day, if we lost the first one and lost the second one it is the most hollow feeling that you will ever have."
Getting a decider in Brisbane next month will depend on whether Queensland, $6 underdogs but boosted by the return of Slater and the inclusion young upstart Kalyn Ponga, can curb NSW's dominance through the middle.
"They've just got to play a full team game," Lewis said.
"That's where we fell down in game one.
"It was a bunch of individuals trying to do the right thing rather than the group working together."
Coverage of Origin II on Channel 9 begins at 7pm on Sunday. Kick-off at 7.40pm