PETER STERLING, STATE OF ORIGIN
The 2009 State of Origin series kicks off on Wednesday, June 3 at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium – the fi rst time a series has started outside of the rival states – and once again Nine will be providing in-depth coverage from an informed team of experts.
In the crowded Wide World of Sports commentary box will be the collective knowledge and experience of Ray Warren, Phil Gould, Andrew Johns, Wally Lewis and Ben Ikin. And, of course, legendary Parramatta halfback and former NRL Footy Show host Peter “ Sterlo” Sterling, who off ered these insights into this year’s series.
Sterlo, is being named in a state team one of the highest honours for a player?
The main honour, I think, will always be to be named an Australian representative. But the State of Origin series tends to be tougher football, and the football we see at State of Origin level is probably our best football. It’s obviously very exciting for any young player who gets the opportunity to take part.
Are there many new additions to the New South Wales and Queensland teams this year?
There will be for NSW. Queensland is in an amazing position at the moment – their backline is the Australian backline. We played a Test match against New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, and it was the fi rst time since 1924 that our national side’s backline was a single team’s backline. There are a couple of unbelievably classy players who can’t break into that backline, players such as Karmichael Hunt and Scott Prince. So Queensland goes in distinct favourites. They’ve won the last three series [ under coach Mal Meninga]; they’re looking to win an unprecedented fourth series in a row. No state has won four in a row in the 30-year history of State of Origin, so it shows the quality of the Queensland side, especially when you consider they have a much smaller pool of players to choose from.
How are both sides looking, coming into game one?
NSW, having lost the last three series, is up against it. A couple of weeks ago, NSW coach Craig Bellamy chose a 40-man squad – you can tell from that squad that there are a lot of new faces in there and it’ll be a new-look team. Now, Queensland is in good form – its backline is one of the best we’ve ever seen, and there are a couple of front-rowers in Steve Price and Petero Civoniceva who are in their mid-30s and playing like they’re 21-year-olds. So the nucleus of the Queensland side is remarkable at the moment. It’s a big test for NSW but there are some exciting youngsters coming through and they might be given the opportunity to play because what the team has produced in the last three years hasn’t been good enough.
Are there any standouts to watch out for in this series?
The most outstanding newcomers are NSW’s Michael Jennings, a young centre from Penrith – he’s explosive but there is some concern about his defensive decisions. He can certainly score a try but saving a try is just as important, so selectors have a tough choice to make there. There are a couple of good young halves – NSW’s Peter Wallace played his fi rst Origin game last year and got injured in that game but he’s shown very good form for Brisbane this year, and there’s a young guy with a famous surname – Terry Campese, nephew of David. He plays for Canberra, and they haven’t had a great season so far, but his last 18 months have been superb. It looks like he’ll be pencilled in for a fi ve-eighth position.
What are your thoughts on throwing young lions into the den of Origin footy?
It’s fi ne to go in with a batch of new players but the one thing that has been proven at this level is that experience is invaluable. So the selectors have a tough job – they want to bring new talent in but they have to realise that having a heap of young players won’t get the job done.
So it seems like the smart money is on Queensland. Could NSW pull off an upset, though?
State of Origin is full of upsets. In 1995, Queensland fi elded a side that was, with all due respect, full of absolute no-names and they won the series three-nil. It’s one of the great shock upsets in any sport, I think. That’s probably the most outstanding example of an upset we’ve seen in State of Origin but it seems that whenever we talk about a state building up a dynasty or stringing together a long series of wins, it all of a sudden turns around. And NSW will certainly hope that’s the case. They’ll certainly fi eld a team with great ability but at the moment Queensland boasts the best players in the game. The best players don’t always win, though.