A NEW year has brought new challenges for the Queensland team. For the first time since 2006, we go into a State of Origin series without a crown to defend.
The hunted have once again become the hunters.
While last year’s series was lost, I am comfortable with the effort and commitment that we had from the players, and very comfortable with the way they played.
It must be said again that, for all of the obstacles and hurdles that we had to overcome last year, ultimately NSW just played exceptionally well.
Their commitment to the cause and their pursuit of the team’s common goal is a testimony to the hard work put in by their coach Laurie Daley.
So while a series defeat was tough to swallow, as always, my over-riding emotion looking back on last year is one of anticipation about 2015.
The reason for that was the performance the Queensland team delivered in Game III of last year’s series.
Now, you might be thinking: “Well, the Maroons won 32-8, of course you would like that.”
But the reasons why it was a defining moment for me go beyond the scoreboard.
Before the game, a lot of Sydney commentators were saying the “dead rubber” game was an important match for NSW, because they could finally put the era of Queensland dominance to bed.
But despite all the pressure, and despite the enormous disappointment of losing the Origin crown they had worked so hard for so long to defend, the Queensland players showed everyone their intentions for 2015 with a terrific performance.
For me, it was a perfect indication of their attitude, and where they want to be.
It was a message from a champion team that the job is not done yet.
They showed they still have the passion and desire for the Maroon jersey.
They delivered the type of performance you would expect from a team that doesn’t believe in dynasties or dead-rubbers.
It was performance of a team for whom every game for Queensland counts, and the reason why I am really excited about what lies ahead for us this year.
There were a lot of other positives as well, most notably how courageous the team was in handling adversity.
Any NRL team will struggle when it loses its halfback. But in Origin where the margins are so tight, to lose Cooper Cronk to a broken arm in the first 10 minutes of the series could have been a killer blow.
The fact we only lost that first game by four points was an incredible show of maturity for this team.
Our bad luck with injuries continued through the series, but the silver lining was the fact that a number of our next generation players took the next step towards taking ownership of this team.
Aidan Guerra, Josh Papalii and Will Chambers all played their first Origin games, and acquitted themselves exceptionally well, while Jake Friend, Ben Hunt and Josh McGuire enhanced their development by joining the squad as shadow players during the series.
It is for all those reasons that I am so excited about what lies ahead with this year’s series.
We have the chance to begin again with fresh challenges, a fresh attitude and a fresh approach to our traditional challenge of beating NSW and bringing that shield home again.