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Tonga in Maroons team for Origin II

16/06/2009 07:27:07 PM Comments (0)

Criticism of Queensland captain Darren Lockyer has been music to Maroons coach Mal Meninga's ears ahead of State of Origin II.

And Meninga dared cynics to keep bagging the champion pivot's recent defensive record, saying it would only spark Lockyer in game two at Sydney's ANZ Stadium on Wednesday week.

Queensland made just one injury-enforced change for Origin II, with Cowboys centre Willie Tonga named in his first Maroons team since 2004 to replace Brisbane's Justin Hodges (knee).

While it capped a remarkable representative comeback for the injury-plagued Tonga, the focus quickly became Lockyer's defence - or lack thereof in recent weeks.

Lockyer has been painted as a defensive liability for Queensland after missing a staggering 33 tackles in his last five games.

And Lockyer did nothing to help his cause in Brisbane on Tuesday, claiming he had to work "extremely hard" with Maroons defensive guru Trevor Gillmeister before game two.

Lockyer was the first to admit he was disappointed with his defence, particularly in his last NRL game for the Broncos - a 44-22 loss to the Bulldogs last Friday night.

He missed seven tackles in that game, including a poor effort on Ben Roberts that led to a decisive try for the Dogs pivot.

But a grinning Meninga said on Tuesday: "It's good that everyone is bagging Darren, to be honest with you.

"I know how he reacts to that criticism. He is always very positive and always gets out there and plays very well when he cops it.

"I don't anticipate Darren missing too many tackles.

"I am anticipating Darren going out there and proving all those critics wrong - once again.

"Keep criticising him, I would be pretty happy with that."

Lockyer had far less bravado, conceding a few hard days on the tackle pads awaited in Maroons camp.

"Look, I will be honest. Last Friday night was very disappointing," he said.

"I have eight days to prepare for a game and I am going to be working extremely hard on that so that it is not going to be an issue on the night."

But Lockyer could see the bright side to his dark night against the Bulldogs.

"It was disappointing for the Broncos but from Queensland's point of view it was probably a good thing that it was highlighted on Friday night," he said.

"It gives me a good opportunity with one of the best teachers of defence in the game in Trevor Gillmeister to work with him for the next eight days."

Asked how would he respond to the criticism, Lockyer said ominously: "I have been bagged before an Origin game before - it is a good thing for me.

"It makes me focus."

Queensland rake Cameron Smith said Lockyer's recent defensive stats hardly concerned the Maroons.

"The more people talk about it and highlight it the more Darren will prove them wrong," Smith told AAP.

"I thought he was great defensively in the first game.

"He's been one of the world's best players for a long time.

"That's not because he can kick a ball or throw a good pass, it's because his got a great all-round game.

"We've got all the trust in the world in him."

Meanwhile, Meninga said Melbourne lock Dallas Johnson was the only slight injury concern after suffering concussion and "a few missing teeth" in the Storm's NRL win over South Sydney in Perth last Saturday.

Queensland team:

Billy Slater (Melbourne), Darius Boyd (St George Illawarra), Greg Inglis (Melbourne), Willie Tonga (North Queensland), Israel Folau (Brisbane), Darren Lockyer (capt, Brisbane), Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland), Steven Price (New Zealand Warriors), Cameron Smith (Melbourne), Petero Civoniceva (Penrith), Ashley Harrison (Gold Coast), Sam Thaiday (Brisbane), Dallas Johnson (Melbourne). Interchange: Karmichael Hunt (Brisbane), Ben Hannant (Bulldogs), Nate Myles (Sydney Roosters), Michael Crocker (South Sydney).

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