A “brutally honest” Phil Gould has warned NSW that the Queensland side they’re about to face will be “extremely hard to beat” – and he’s identified star halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster as the Maroons’ most dangerous weapons.
One chief reason is coach Brad Fittler‘s strategy to call upon six of the high-flying Panthers. Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo are incumbents, while Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Liam Martin and 18th man Api Koroisau are first-time selections.
But Gould, who coached NSW to six series wins across the 1990s and 2000s, isn’t convinced the Blues are destined to clinch the series.
“I think they’ll be very hard to beat, if I’m being brutally honest. I think Queensland will be extremely hard to beat, particularly in this Game I and Game II in Queensland …” Gould said on Wide World of Sports’ The Final Whistle.
“People underestimated Queensland last year and particularly the experience of their two halves: Cherry-Evans and Munster. I think that’s the key for them.”
The Panthers hadn’t lost a game this season until eight of Ivan Cleary’s men were unavailable for the Wests Tigers clash on Friday, in which Penrith fell 26-6.
On top of the six Panthers stars on Blues duties, Kurt Capewell is set for another run in a Maroons jumper and Moses Leota copped a suspension.
The 2020 grand finalists had become just the third team in Australian first-grade rugby league to have started a season with 12 wins, while their plus-306 points differential had been the greatest in premiership history after 12 rounds.
Ahead of the most recent round, Blues halves Luai (14) and Cleary (12) led the competition in try assists, gelling beautifully as they dismantled opposition teams.
“The young NSW side – they’ve awarded a lot of young kids, there’s a lot of debut players on club form and they’re deservedly there,” Gould said.
“But this is going to be another step up again from what they’ve experienced. In club football over the last 18 months there haven’t been many Origin-type games. This is going to be a completely different complexion for them.
“I think they’ll get better the further the series goes, so I hope they persevere with them.
“But … this is going to be an awesome experience for those young players on Wednesday night.”
Despite underlining the strength of the Queensland outfit, Gould pointed out that the work ethic of the NSW forward pack was superior.
“I’m a little worried about Queensland’s work-rate in the forwards. I think players are going to have to come off the bench and contribute there. They’re going to have to watch their interchange really closely. I think NSW have a much more hard-working pack,” Gould said.
“But I keep coming back to Cherry-Evans and Munster because in the key moments and when the game gets down to the wire and if it goes down to the back end and a close finish, they’re the ones that have been there and done it before.
“So that’s going to stand Queensland in really good stead.”