The 2018 State of Origin series is upon us and both teams have undergone some major changes, through retirements in Queensland's case or through New South Wales' need to start afresh and end 12 long years of misery.
With Game 1 in Melbourne on Wednesday we count down the top seven reasons we think Queensland will continue their supremacy, at least for this year.
7. The halfbacks for both states are new to the State of Origin arena, but Ben Hunt has played in one game, is a little older, a little wiser and a lot more experienced. While Nathan Cleary could very well end up being the next Andrew Johns, it will be a big ask to expect him to hit the ground running in this new-look New South Wales team. Cleary shows so much promise that he might just end up winning player of the series, but I think Queensland have the edge in the key halfback position with Ben Hunt.
6. New South Wales have only six players in their line-up that have played State of Origin previously. The broom that Brad Fittler swept through the Blues ranks brings in fresh, exciting prospects; but Origin is a unique brand of rugby league and experience can be very valuable. Fittler has selected form players, many of whom look very much like Origin players. But until the blow-torch is applied, you just can't tell how a player will perform.
These 11 new faces don't carry the emotional scars of being part of so many losing campaigns, but they have never experienced the intensity, the frantic pace and the -- play until you have no more to give and then dig a bit deeper -- mentality that Origin requires.
5. Fittler has loaded this Blues team with attacking weapons, but there are big question marks over the tackling ability of both centres and five-eighth James Maloney. It has been said that they can afford to concede five tries as long as they score six. The problem with that theory is that Queensland's defence won't leak a lot of points, no matter how sharp their opposition may be. The Blues have been belting their heads against that Maroon wall for over a decade, with limited success. If Queensland score easy points they'll defend their lead like their lives depend on it.
4. The Maroons have won four out of the eight games played in Melbourne. Queensland is more than just a retirement goal for most Victorians, it is an ally in a shared disdain for all things New South Wales. Like Brisbane, Melbourne sits on a dirty river and locals tend to scoff bitterly at Sydney's unquestionable and enviable beauty. Like Queenslanders, Victorians believe that New South Welshmen think they are better than they are. The truth is most New South Welshmen don't think about Victoria at all until Spring Carnival rolls around.
The self-proclaimed sporting capital of the world will provide a healthy crowd at the MCG next Wednesday and it will more closely resemble a Suncorp atmosphere baying for Blue blood than any pro-NSW sentiments. Any semblance of home ground advantage will be with the Maroons.
3. Greg Inglis is back wearing the number three after missing last year's Origin through injury. He has slowly been working his way back to top form with the Rabbitohs and proudly takes over the captaincy from Cameron Smith. His nemesis Josh Morris won't be there to hound him; instead he'll be up against a debutant with a questionable defensive record. Inglis may have left his best days behind him, but he is still capable of putting together match-winning performances at this level.
2. For too many years Queensland have had the edge over New South Wales. Those north of the Tweed will tell you it comes from a greater passion for their state and the Maroon jersey. More than that, their record of success has brought with it a deeply ingrained belief in the player standing next to each of them. When everything is against them and all seems lost, they believe that they can still win and will do everything not to let their mates down. The confidence is infectious, the winning almost habitual. They just keep producing and breaking Blue hearts.
1. Queensland sent Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk into State of Origin folklore with an unlikely series victory last year. It has since been confirmed that it was also a fairytale Origin finish for Cameron Smith. Queensland players feel as though they have a greater bond than their New South Wales counterparts; the mateship is apparently stronger up north, they'll do whatever it takes to back each other up.
Billy Slater has announced that this will be his last Origin series and Queensland will be doing everything in their power to send him out a winner. Slater has enjoyed an incredible representative career and we see this year's State of Origin series finishing with him riding atop his teammates' shoulders after yet another series win.