Injury, anger and timeless inspiration set the stage for a gripping State of Origin series opener

The colour of the NSW jerseys threatened to overshadow the Blues' preparations.

The colour of the NSW jerseys threatened to overshadow the Blues' preparations. Photo: AAP

As New South Wales looks to shrug off injury and anger at the colour of its jersey for the State of Origin opener on Wednesday night, its Queensland opponents will draw on a decades-old motto for inspiration.

NSW lost a bruising 2022 series 2-1 and will be looking to quickly assert itself in Adelaide.

And as the Blues rushed to patch the massive hole left by a last-minute calf injury to star Latrell Mitchell, coach Brad Fittler found himself sweating on the progress of an infected tooth to halfback Nathan Cleary.

Cleary was cleared to play, and Mitchell will be replaced in the centres by Stephen Crichton, while Matt Burton was rushed to Adelaide to join the squad.

And NSW fans will be expecting big things from debutant Nicho Hynes, who should make his first Origin appearance off the bench.

Fittler said he can’t remember feeling the same level of clamour that has willed Hynes into the Origin squad.

“The media play tricks on you like that. They pick someone who is topical,” the Blues coach said on Tuesday.

“But what Nicho has been doing is, he has been backing it up every week.”

Maroons fans, meanwhile, will be focused on newcomer Reece Walsh, whose selection at fullback at the expense of Queensland stalwart Kalyn Ponga caused more than a few raised eyebrows.

When again questioned about the young Bronco’s selection on Tuesday, Maroons coach Billy Slater’s response was to the point.

“He’s got so much brilliance in his game and so much talent and involvement … but he’s building a great foundation from that position, and that’s the core of what keeps you in good stead under pressure,” Slater said.

State of Origin

Maroons debutant Reece Walsh will be a target in Adelaide. Photo: AAP

Cleary will be given instructions to test Walsh, with Fittler keen to exploit the Queensland No.1’s inexperience.

“Any fullback you need to put under pressure. They’re isolated at the back,” Fittler said.

“It’s his first game and that’s important, so we’re going to make sure he understands it’s a step up.”

Do your duty

Walsh, and his Queensland teammates don’t need to be reminded of the expectation on them to do their duty when they run out in Adelaide.

The inspirational words – “Queensland expects you to do your duty” – will be on the inside collar of their jersey.

The phrase, coined by the late Queensland team manager Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner, has as much power today as it did more than 40 years ago.

Queensland legend Gene Miles started his Origin career when Maroons ‘Godfather’ Turner became team manager in 1982.

“Tosser had those inspiring words written on an original telegram and when Arthur Beetson was coach he would read it out to us as we were about to walk out,” Miles said on Tuesday.

“Even today that message is on a banner and is the last thing the players see as they walk out the tunnel … that Queensland expects you to do your duty.

“We have always had unbelievable support throughout Queensland and that is the legacy of ‘Tosser’ Turner.”

Miles said he was not surprised that Slater was keeping the flame alive.

“Billy is all about legacies and tradition,” he said.

State of Origin

Qld coach Billy Slater has embraced the decades-old slogan. Photo: AAP

Slater said he was fortunate enough to meet Turner and get to know him when he first started playing Origin.

“That’s one thing that is really important to us, to know why the Queensland State of Origin team means so much to the people of Queensland and why we get the opportunity to play in an environment that we get to play in,” Slater said.

Feeling blue

The Blues players will also be inspired by their jerseys, if only to prove wrong the detractors who have slammed its colour.

NSW this week rejected the NRL’s late request to revert to its traditional sky-blue jersey to avoid a clash with Queensland’s maroon strip in the series opener.

The NRL was told of the Blues’ jersey choice more than a year ago but only made contact with NSW to question the navy blue design on Friday, once images began surfacing in media outlets.

Blues prop Junior Paulo shrugged off the NRL’s qualms following the final NSW training session.

“It’s still blue, isn’t it? It doesn’t bother me as much,” he said.

“Blue’s blue. That’s the only colour we’ll see when we get out there.”

In defending their jersey choice, the Blues released a statement that referenced the similar navy-blue strip worn in the second game of the 2019 series.

“The wearing of an alternate jersey on Wednesday evening is not a new idea,” an NSWRL spokesman said.

“It should be noted that NSWRL first followed the concept of wearing an alternate jersey in 2019 without any issue or concern ever being raised by the ARLC.

“Indeed, the base colour of the jersey being worn on Wednesday evening is exactly the same colour as the colour of the jersey which was worn in Perth in 2019, again without any issue ever being raised by the ARLC and without any clash between the maroon Queensland jersey and the blue NSW jersey being identified.”

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