Damien Cook sparks the Blues attack at training.
Damien Cook sparks the Blues attack at training. Jenny Evans

Ennis: Blues Cooking up Origin win?

LET me take you back to Game Three, 2017 - the decider.

The great Cameron Smith comes out and says he has been letting Queensland down after being limited to just two runs for eight metres in the opening two matches of the series.

On the eve of the decider Smith publicly called his forwards out to lay the platform for him to increase his attack.

The crafty Queensland No.9 was at his attacking best in that game, scheming and probing every time there was a quick play the ball, every time a NSW marker was left on the ground.

And when the big, powerful NSW forward pack tired, it was Smith who owned the moment.

At the MCG on Wednesday night as we embark on a new era of State of Origin, the Blues will field a side bristling with speed, athleticism and youth with 11 debutants thrust onto rugby league's biggest stage in a bid to end Queensland's dominance.

Cameron Smith with the ball during State of Origin Game 3 in Brisbane last year.
Cameron Smith weaves his magic for the Maroons. GLENN HUNT

For the Maroons, well, they face the daunting task of trying to defend their title without arguably the greatest spine in the history of rugby league.

Few would argue Smith is the greatest dummy-half to ever lace up a boot, while Billy Slater is a player who completely revolutionised the modern-day fullback's role, Johnathan Thurston is a future Immortal and few have ever been able to execute a coach's game plan better than Cooper Cronk.

We've become accustomed to seeing these four Queensland champions owning the clutch moments when the game is on a knife's edge.

New South Wales Michael Ennis gets in the face of Sam Thaiday of Queensland during game 2 of the State of Origin Rugby League series in Sydney, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. N.S.W defeated Queensland 18 - 8. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING
Michael Ennis shows his passion as he faces off against Queensland rival Sam Thaiday. DEAN LEWINS

Who will rise when that moment presents now?

Is there a player with bigger shoes to fill than new Maroons hooker Andrew McCullough?

The retirement of Smith was going to eventuate and it was always going to be unfortunate for whoever had that daunting task of pulling on the famous Maroons No 9.

McCullough is the right man for the job. His temperament suggests he won't go out there on Wedensday night and try to be Smith, he has to play his own game, something he has done so well for the Broncos over the past few years.

His game suits Origin. He's tough and uncompromising, yet crafty out of dummy-half.

It is what Smith brought to the Maroons for more than a decade.

Andrew McCullough during the Queensland State of Origin team training session at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast, Friday, June 1, 2018. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING
Andrew McCullough on the run at Queensland training. DAVE HUNT

McCullough though is up against a very big NSW forward pack and will need to play smart. He will need variety, movement and to change the angles of his forwards to fatigue the NSW forward pack.

We don't see him run a lot but he must do it tonight.

When you earn momentum in Origin you must sustain it, put the foot on the throat and be relentless, play over the advantage line and terrorise the opposition through the middle.

This is a great opportunity for McCullough and one he thoroughly deserves.

Opposing McCullough is the electric Damien Cook.

Is there a player heading on to the MCG tonight in better form?

What a story this is. He is the epitome of persistence.

Damien Cook of the NSW Blues during a team training session at the NSWRL Centre of Excellence in Sydney, Thursday, May 31, 2018. (AAP Image/David Moir) NO ARCHIVING
Damien Cook in the clear during a Blues training run. DAVID MOIR

He has had road block after road block in front of him at every club he has been at and tonight that incredible drive, determination and phenomenal work ethic pays off.

His form at the Rabbitohs has been incredible and could prove to be the x-factor for NSW.

The Blues forward pack is powerful and aggressive and the onus is on them to lay the platform and generate momentum for the likes of Nathan Cleary and James Maloney but it is Cook who could do the most damage.

He now poses just as much of a threat in the opening 20 minutes as he does in the last 20 minutes.

What's most important for Cook is that he doesn't sit back and wait for his moment, sometimes in Origin they just don't come. You have to go and find it.

Tonight on rugby league's biggest stage, when that Origin moment arrives and the result is on the line, the two debutants in the No.9 jersey will hold the key.

Who will own that moment?

I get the feeling that this is Damien Cook's time.