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Meninga says its open season on kickers

By Wayne Heming 24/05/2011 08:30:20 PM Comments (0)

Queensland coach Mal Meninga has warned that NSW halves Mitchell Pearce and Jamie Soward can expect to be targeted in much the same way as Darren Lockyer in Wednesday's opening State of Origin clash.

Blues back-rower Greg Bird has already declared it his mission to torment Lockyer, hitting him at every opportunity when he kicks the ball.

But Meninga suggested on Tuesday that this would very much cut both ways.

Asked if the NSW kickers would equally be "fair game", Meninga was clear.

"Yeah, exactly," he said.

"That's the nature of the beast.

"I think there's been a rule set down by referees, it's fair game if you can get near (kickers) so you can actually take the kicker out," said Meninga before Queensland wrapped up match preparations at Suncorp Stadium on Tuesday.

"We'll have to do a pretty good job of protecting Locky and Smithy (Cameron Smith) and also JT (Johnathan Thurston) in this game."

Meninga, who played his 32 Origins, including the first game in 1980 when brawls, late hits and square-ups were common place, admitted he was "a little worried" about his skipper.

"No doubt they'll go after Locky and Johnathan," he said.

"That's what Origin is all about.

"You have a tendency to get away with a bit more (in Origin) than you do in club footy."

However he cautioned the Blues about overdoing it on Lockyer.

"Champion players rise to the occasion when they're put under pressure, that's what makes them champions," said Meninga.

"They can actually handle things that are put in front of them.

"Darren's been doing this for 16 years, it's just another game for him.

"He's been put in that position in all his 33 Origins.

"He's such a resilient and smart player, hopefully he won't be in a situation where he gets hurt."

Queensland are banking on a significant edge in Origin experience to put them 1-0 against a NSW side hand-picked by Blues coach Ricky Stuart with the intention of busting the Maroons up the middle.

In Lockyer, Thurston, hooker Smith and fullback Billy Slater, they dwarf NSW in big match experience which could prove critical should the game be in the balance late.

"Experience could be the turning point, taking your opportunities could be the turning point, a mistake here, a decision there, it's on a dime," said Meninga.

"If we have to handle adversity or get down and dig our way out of something, we know we've got the confidence and the players to do it.

"We know we've got a great spine, we know we've got some great players in our footy team who will rise to the occasion.

"The other players will help us get through that as well."

Lockyer will equal Allan Langer's appearance record in his 34th game for Queensland but Meninga said his players each had a role to play for the team and the milestone had not been mentioned all week.

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