Blues pin hopes on centre pair - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Blues pin hopes on centre pair

David Beniuk 23/05/2011 05:37:38 PM Comments (0)

Queensland can outgun NSW over most of the park, but the Blues centres boast twice as much State of Origin experience as their Maroons rivals.

Statistics have revealed the Maroons average 19.3 Origin games per player compared with NSW's paltry 1.5 but, if there's any channels the Blues will target, it will be those patrolled by centres Willie Tonga and Dane Nielson.

Blues pair Mark Gasnier and Michael Jennings out-Origin their opponents 12 games to six after Test centres Justin Hodges and Greg Inglis were ruled out by injury.

Gasnier has played nine matches and Jennings three, compared with Tonga's six and Nielson making his debut.

The figures skew when Jennings matches up on the more experienced Tonga but they also reveal Nielson will have his hands full nullifying Gasnier, who is back to his pre-rugby union form.

Tonga and Nielson are both regular left centres but the North Queensland star will shift to the right, leaving the Melbourne debutant in his more familiar role.

"It's not as if they're going to be thrown in the deep end, they've got a lot of combinations around them that have been together and played a lot of football together for a good five, six years now," Gasnier said of the Queensland pair.

"So I think they will thrive under that and they will probably lift to their level."

Gasnier is yet to mark up in the NRL on Nielson, who was called into the side as Inglis' replacement.

"From what I've seen of Dane he's a very tough competitor, he's quite a big boy and he doesn't really take a backward step," Gasnier said.

Melbourne captain and Queensland hooker Cameron Smith said Maroons coach Mal Meninga had consulted him and Storm assistant Kevin Walters about Nielson.

"Mal told me he was pretty impressed with the way he trained (in the emerging Origin squad) and I think he was fairly confident he was going to pick him before he spoke to us," Smith said.

"He's been playing good football for us for a few years now and he's very good defensively.

"You could say he's not as dynamic as an Inglis or a Hodges he's fairly solid player who carries the ball well.

"You look at him and he doesn't look that strong, but he's pretty hard player to bring down."

Jennings remains in the middle of a try drought, still yet to cross in 2011, but Gasnier said his centre partner's confidence remained high.

"We've done a bit of stuff both in defence and attack that he's taken a lot of confidence out of," Gasnier said.

"You've got to look at the way Penrith were going earlier on in the year too.

"I expect Michael to play really well."

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