AAP Rugby

Familiar feel as Origin heads to Perth

By AAP Newswire

Despite being taken to the unfamiliar surrounds of Perth, the State of Origin rivalry has an all-too-familiar feel for game two.

There was an air of the unknown around the series opener this year.

Inspired by the weird and wacky coaching of NSW legend Brad Fittler, the Blues had seemingly turned the tide with a stirring series victory last year.

And, heading into Origin I at Suncorp Stadium, Queensland counterpart Kevin Walters went from congenial to combative courtesy of a coach whisperer.

But a Maroons' 20-minute blitz in Brisbane has change the narrative.

Two weeks later and not only are the Blues 1-0 down, but Fittler has been rankled by criticism of his decision to dump star Latrell Mitchell for Origin II.

It was one of a whopping seven changes - which included the forced absence of David Klemmer due to a wrist injury that paved the way for one of Origin's biggest bolters in Daniel Saifiti.

Veteran James Maloney has been recalled at No.6, while Fittler's new-look centre pairing is comprised of a fullback and a five-eighth.

Some believe it screams of panic.

Meanwhile, the Maroons, forced into two changes due to injury, are going along so swimmingly it's as if they're back in the sunshine state.

Oh, and Walters could barely give his team a pass mark for game one.

"After reviewing the game I would probably give it a five or six out of 10 if I am being kind," Walters said on opening day of camp foir game two.

He even flirted with breaking his own ban on mentioning all things NSW when he had a subtle dig at the Blues' controversial selection policy.

"We've been very loyal. I have a great belief in this team and the only changes we've had have been forced," Walters said.

Normal service appears to have resumed on your Origin network.

The mass changes have the Blues vulnerable for Sunday's contest, perhaps even putting a cloud over Fittler's reign as coaching saviour.

The Maroons, spurred on by the red-hot form of Kalyn Ponga, Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans, are now red-hot favourites for a 12th series win in 15 years.

Even the neutral venue, expected to be an Optus Stadium sellout, may not be impartial, with a local news poll showing 60 per cent support for the Maroons.

Maloney, however, looms as the key.

Of the raft of changes made to the NSW team gazumped in game one, none have a bigger reputation of performing in big games than the 33-year-old playmaker.

A two-time NRL premiership-winner, Maloney was also widely credited for steering the Blues to success last year.

While he understands why he was overlooked for game one, he remains unruffled by the pressure on him to save NSW from despair.

"My role's pretty similar to what it was last year. There's still a lot of young guys in terms of this arena," Maloney said.

"So that experience and being able to steer them around, and keep everyone calm and composed when the time comes, that will fall on me.

"I'll have to make sure it happens."