Rugby league legend Cooper Cronk has laid out his four gamebreakers in the Blues and Maroons squads ahead of the series opener.
The Blues came away with the spoils in 2021 but rookie coach Billy Slater is plotting revenge and has picked a strong Queensland team.
Few know the ins and outs of an Origin series like Cronk — having played an impressive 22 games for the Maroons.
The Storm and Roosters premiership winning halfback has singled out Cameron Munster, Kalyn Ponga, James Tedesco and Damien Cook as the men ready to stamp their authority on the series opener.
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Cameron Munster has been one of the best players in the competition so far in 2022.
After a turbulent off-season, the premiership winner has come back rejuvenated and with a renewed focus resulting in some eye-catching displays.
Munster is a big-game player and the Blues will need to watch out if the dazzling playmaker is on song.
“I think after the first five or ten minutes we will know if Munster is on, he generally runs from dummy-half and gets at first receiver,” Fox League’s Cooper Cronk said on NRL360.
“He takes the line on, and if you think about all of his good games he has done that historically.
“The thing about Munster is when the defenders are sort of three or four spots away, and they think they aren’t under threat, well you are.
“Because Munster can throw a big dummy, bounce off his left foot twice, the next minute he goes through.
“When Queensland needs something, it is Cameron Munster… he has got the X-factor, loves the big stage and he has got the ability to break it open.”
What makes Munster such a threat is his unpredictability.
Cronk believes that even he doesn’t know exactly what he is going to do when he takes on the line, playing threatening eyes-up football.
Another tactic Munster uses is his footwork, being able to bounce across the defensive line to find a point of attack.
“He shows the ball, dummy underneath and next minute he jumps two or three defenders and he is gone, I think that is the key,” Cronk said.
“Do you think he knows what he is doing?” Paul Kent asked.
“No,” Cronk said.
“He doesn’t, simply… when he gets the ball in hands he actually doesn’t, but when he throws a dummy or steps he is looking for a queue, that queue could be three or four defenders wider.
“He wants to buy time so he skips across the field with electric footwork and his big body gets him through the line.”
“If he doesn’t know what he is going to do, his opponents certainly don’t,” NRL360 host Braith Anasta said.
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PONGA’S BEST SPOTS
Kalyn Ponga’s attacking threat has been dampened in 2022.
In years gone by, the talented fullback has been able to play off Mitchell Pearce — and the halfback knew how to get his attacking threat in the right spots for him to excel.
Ponga loves taking on the outside backs with ball in hand and Cronk believes legendary fullback Billy Slater will be plotting to get the best out of him.
“I think Kalyn is primed, think about it Billy Slater is a tactician, he will come up with ideas and he will want to get Kalyn in his favourite spots,” Cronk said.
“Think about all the good plays Kalyn has done, he is usually two passes wide trying to attack four-in defenders, and then he throws rockets to the winger to set up his outside men.
“In my history playing with Slater he always likes to come up with plays and they always involve the fullback.”
Despite constant speculation surrounding Ponga in club-land, ending when he ultimately re-signed with the Hunter club, not much has been made of Ponga’s selection.
Cronk believes that is exactly why the 24-year-old will be ready to go come Wednesday night.
“He has gone into the Queensland camp and we haven’t heard too much, I think he is really primed for a good performance,” Cronk said.
“I think the Queensland team have picked guys in form, if there is one that is not it is probably Kalyn, if you look at Newcastle’s three or four weeks he has tried.
“But this kid has top level skills.
“I think he (Slater) knows the strengths of Kalyn so he is going to get the ball in design in aspects where he wants it.”
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TEDESCO THE ‘EVERYWHERE MAN’
Blues skipper James Tedesco has been ever-reliable for New South Wales in his 16-game stint.
Since making a debut in 2016, the Roosters No.1 hasn’t missed a game.
Cronk explained that Tedesco is set to terrorise the Maroons defensive line and will be ‘everywhere’ on the field.
“He is the everywhere man, there is not a player for Queensland that won’t tackle Tedesco,” Cronk said.
“He will be down a short side, he will be through the middle, he will be in tackle one, he will be in tackle five.
“He is just involved in everything, he is always supporting, he has come up with match-winning tries.
“The fact that he has all parts of his game, he can take a tough carry, he can go through the middle as a first receiver.”
But, the legendary playmaker explained there is one way to minimise Tedesco’s impact on the game.
Give him no space.
“But the thing with Queensland, if they shut down Tedesco, he is going to have 20 plus runs, but Tedesco needs to feel like he is playing football in a phone box, really needs to be in tight confined spaces because if you give him space he is going to come up with a big play,” Cronk said.
“Any time he gets the ball, put a lot of people around him.
“I think Kalyn plays a big part in this, spot Tedesco and he will be wherever the ball will be.
“He has now learnt how to be the big game player, so there isn’t much else for Tedesco to get a hold of to perform.”
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COOK’S RUNNING GAME
The hallmark of Rabbitohs star Damien Cook’s game is his running game.
Scooting from dummy-half, Cook can slice through the defensive line, burning tired middle forwards.
In Cronk’s analysis, he made one big observation — Cook loves to attack on the left.
When the Blues No.9 runs the ball to the left side of the field, he often is able to charge through the line.
When attacking the right he often skips across the field, attempting to find his hole.
“I think he loves a quick play the ball, if it is slow, he is nullified,” Cronk said.
“The best thing about Cook is he loves going out to his left, around tackle three or four or around halfway when there is split defenders, he is gone.
“If the defenders are passive he is gone, arrow straight through the backfield, if they defend it well he tends the skip back across the field to his right hand side.”
One of the major talking points of Slater’s selection was to pick Ben Hunt at No.9 and Harry Grant off the bench.
Meanwhile, Fittler has only picked one recognised hooker, meaning Cook will likely have to play 80 minutes of intense Origin football.
“Is there a concern he has to play 80 minutes?” Paul Kent asked.
“Cook has done it before, but I just like that if you can make Cook 30 tackles within the first 50 minutes he might tire,” Cronk said.