Schick Hydro Preview: NSW U-20s v Queensland U-20s
The crème de la crème from the Holden Cup are set to put on a show in the annual Under-20s State of Origin clash on Wednesday night.
Unlike their more senior counterparts, the Junior Blues have had no problems against their northern rivals with four wins from as many starts on the Origin stage.
The inaugural clash in 2012 was a tight affair, but the past three have been won by a combined score of 98-36.
Wednesday night's match will be an audition for the game's brightest young stars to make a bid for a spot in the NRL next year, or perhaps to prove they are good enough to represent their states down the track.
The Junior Blues have named a strong squad, with five players backing up from last year's match. But just imagine if current NRL players Latrell Mitchell, Nathan Cleary, Tom Trbojevic, Dylan Edwards and Jacob Liddle were available.
The Junior Maroons have opted for a 17-man squad capable of scoring from anywhere. They have the luxury of picking two players with NRL experience (Brodie Croft and Jaydn Su'A) and have also named last year's leading try scorer in the Holden Cup, Gideon Gela-Mosby.
Watch out NSW: In one-off matches, combinations can often be the difference between winning and losing. Enter the North Queensland connection of halfback Cooper Bambling and fullback Gideon Gela-Mosby. The Cowboys Holden Cup No.7 in ranked eighth in the NYC with 14 try assists, and has often had the ball on a string with his lethal left boot. Expect him to link up with try-scoring phenomenon Gela-Mosby at every opportunity. The NQ flyer has scored 10 tries from 11 matches in 2016 – down from his incredible haul of 39 last season – and will relish the move from wing to fullback. If that wasn't enough, look out for fellow Cowboy Marcus Jensen as he looks to add to the 17 tries he's already scored in the Holden Cup this year.
Watch out Queensland: Origin matches are often won through the middle, and the Junior Blues boast perhaps the best up-and-comer in that regard. Roosters lock Nat Butcher oozes quality and will surely come into reckoning for an NRL debut in the weeks to come. The Australian Schoolboy star is first in the Holden Cup for most runs (256), second for metres made (2506) and is ranked fifth for tackles made (550). He can be just as effective in attack, with Butcher producing a team-high 23 offloads to spark potent second-phase footy. If the team needs a lift, they will turn to Butcher.
Key match-up: Taniela Paseka v Josh Kerr. It's not often that bench forwards are bestowed with the honour of being the battle to watch, but Paseka and Kerr have the ability to change the momentum of a game with one big charge. At 197cm and 120kg, the Wests Tigers prop is one of the genuine wrecking balls in the NYC. He has a season high of 252 metres from just 45 minutes of action against the Rabbitohs, but it was his most recent performance that even earned him a highlights package on the NRL's Facebook page. Paseka ran for 179 metres, made two line breaks and scored a try in a destructive showing against the table-topping Panthers to justify his spot in the NSW side.
Then there's Josh Kerr, the Storm prop forward who leads his side in just about every key statistic. The 198cm, 115kg giant has taken the Holden Cup by storm (pardon the pun) in 2016 and has developed into Melbourne's most valuable player. Kerr is the leading try scorer at the club (8), has made the most metres (1932), most line breaks (10), leads the way with offloads (25) and has the most tackle breaks (49). Watch for his introduction in the 20th minute to change the game.
The history: Played 4; NSW 4, QLD 0. It's been all one-way traffic since the concept was introduced in 2012. The Junior Blues made it four straight wins last year with a comfortable 32-16 victory at Suncorp Stadium. Titans winger Brian Kelly was the hero, scoring four tries, while Roosters duo Jackson Hastings and Latrell Mitchell also crossed.
Match officials: Referee: Peter Gough. Assistant referee: Tim Roby. Sideline officials: Nick Morel and Kasey Badger.
The way we see it: NSW might be undefeated at this level, but that streak looks in serious jeopardy this time around. Queensland have named one of their most potent squads in recent memory, and with classy halves there to steer them around could have enough points in them to end the drought. If their forwards can hold their own against their more experienced NSW rivals, the Junior Maroons have the firepower out wide to get the job done. Queensland by 8.
This article first appeared on NRL.COM