The big hits, biffo and giant-killing mentality of Queensland’s State of Origin legacy have been fed to coach Brad Thorn’s eager underdogs all week in Christchurch.
The Queensland Reds have turned their week in Christchurch into an “Origin-style camp” to tune the perfect mindset for Friday night’s sudden-death quarter-final against the Crusaders.
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Co-captain Tate McDermott said being rated as 20-point outsiders and playful heckling from Kiwi locals on a daily basis was merely adding to the team’s gritty mood.
“No one is giving us a chance and it’s something we’ve really bounced off,” McDermott said.
“Everywhere you go (in Christchurch) someone is throwing a bit of chat or wanting a photo. It’s good to be in a rugby town and guys like Fraser (McReight) enjoy heckling back.”
It runs much deeper. Thorn has tapped his own background as a former State of Origin rugby league forward to drench the Reds with all the cues.
“It’s been a theme of ‘State of Origin’ camp this week. He’s taken us back to when Queensland were underdogs. No one expects us to do anything but we are absolutely up for this massive challenge,” halfback McDermott said.
“Whenever we’ve started a team meeting this week, that’s been the footage…the brawls, the big hits, the atmosphere around Origin, what it means to be a Queenslander.
“They have been the key things.”
McDermott’s mullet even fits the mood.
Thorn has particularly referenced the famous 1995 Origin series when the Maroons were massive underdogs without the Super League stars from the Brisbane Broncos.
The Maroons went 2-0 up with a terrific win against the odds in Melbourne and went into folklore with a 3-0 sweep.
“It was the first year that Wally Lewis was watching, not playing and ‘Fatty’ Vautin was coach. There was the ‘Queenslander’ call, the big fight in Melbourne and the Maroons winning,” McDermott said.
“It’s just been good to get the similarities that we are going into an absolute fight.”
Without injured Taniela Tupou and James O’Connor, it does compare that the Reds are striving for an upset in Super Rugby Pacific without their biggest trumps.
A forward from the current Queensland Origin team may well prime the Reds even further on a Zoom call into Christchurch because of a timely Reds-Maroons link.
The Origin team’s strength-and-conditioning chief Andrew Croll worked a stint in a rehab role at the Reds entering this season.
McDermott quickly stressed that watching a few classic Origin brawls was feeding a mentality rather than a copycat strategy.
“You won’t see a biff but you’ll definitely see a bit of a niggle. Last week, once we said we’re not taking a backward step, we were a much better side,” McDermott said.
“The boys have got a license to go out and give it a good rattle.”
The Reds can’t afford the ill-discipline of going too far with the number of yellow cards they have conceded this season. They were averaging a yellow card per game, as the worst disciplined in the competition, until a clean sheet in last week’s 28-15 loss to the Crusaders.
“Discipline…that’s a big one for us. My job and Liam’s (as co-captains) is to balance that but we don’t want to be waiting for them to dictate,” McDermott added.
One thing is certain when facing a Crusaders side which will have All Blacks ace Richie Mo’unga returning.
“We are going to be needing to play our best footy to get a result and we have to go the full 80,” McDermott said.
“We got confidence from what we did in the second half against the Crusaders last week but we do have to tidy up our kicking execution-wise.”
As a final note, McDermott did express the team’s disappointment that Crusaders flanker Pablo Matera escaped with no more than a yellow card for the dangerous tackle that upended Jordan Petaia on his shoulder, neck and head.
“Whether he meant to do it or not, it’s disappointing. In saying that, he’s playing (on Friday) and we’ve got to get over it,” McDermott said.
“I guess that was my argument (on the dangerous precedent) at the time when you have the Sam Gilbert-Michael Hooper incident (judged as a five-week ban).
“All we are asking for is a bit of consistency so the boys know right and wrong.”