JT’s free rein to spark Maroons attack
Queensland believe a more relaxed Johnathan Thurston will snap the Maroons out of their try-scoring rut in State of Origin III.
The Maroons are headed for their worst Origin attacking return in 22 years after crossing for just two tries in two games for NSW to end their eight-year dynasty.
Chief playmaker Thurston has been kept mostly quiet by the Blues’ brick-wall defence, but coach Mal Meninga expects his five-eighth will be back to his dangerous best on Wednesday night.
Meninga pointed to the return of regular halves partner Cooper Cronk as a key to Thurston and Queensland clicking into gear.
After Cronk broke his forearm early in game one, the Maroons have managed just one four-pointer in 151 minutes of the 12-8 and 6-4 defeats.
That’s the damning fact that has added up to Queensland gambling on Cronk’s healing powers and benching Daly Cherry-Evans.
Meninga said Cronk’s inclusion would take organisational responsibilities off Thurston and allow the Cowboys captain to revel in his natural game.
“With Cooper back in the side, John can probably relax a little bit,” the coach said.
“Cooper just adds to our structure and can take us into the spots we want to go, and John can play off the back of that.
“Because of that, he will play really well.”
A tactical general, Cronk provides a perfect foil for Thurston, while he and Cherry-Evans are more similar attacking dynamos.
Veteran forward Sam Thaiday believed Cherry-Evans was overly harsh in blaming himself for the game two defeat, but felt Cronk’s return would go a long way to redressing the lack of tries.
“To have him back is fantastic,” Thaiday said. “He brings a lot of communication and a lot of organisation to the side, and is a big part of what we’ve done here for many years.
“He gives JT a chance and an opportunity to play the game of footy he loves and that’s that free rein to run the ball.
“He knows the plays backwards and forwards and will only help us in that aspect.”
Not since the 1992 Maroons, in their first series without Wally Lewis, scored just two tries in their 2-1 series loss to Phil Gould’s NSW has a Queensland side struggled to cross the line.
The least they scored in the streak of eight straight series wins was the seven tries of last year.
Meninga stressed the Maroons were as determined to show their true colours as denying NSW a clean sweep at Suncorp Stadium.
“We haven’t played well, to our potential in game one and two, so we need to do that,” he said.
“We have been beaten by a better side who have upset the way we want to play and have got the better of us. We have to make sure we can overcome that.”