Injury-hit Maroons on red alert
QUEENSLAND's forwards have hit the wall just over a month out from State of Origin I.
In a boost to NSW's hopes of wresting the shield back from Queensland, statistics from Fox Sports Lab show how nearly all available Maroons forwards are significantly down on form compared to last year.
It comes after doctors confirmed Maroons lock Josh McGuire would require surgery on an injured ankle and be sidelined for up to six weeks.
Fellow Queensland forward Matt Gillett (neck) has already been ruled out of Origin I in Melbourne while Tim Glasby (broken thumb) is in severe doubt.
"There are worrying signs, but there are worrying signs for both states," Queensland legend Gorden Tallis told The Daily Telegraph.
"NSW's worry is that they have too many blokes playing well and who do they leave out? Our worry is who do we put in?"
Further increasing NSW hopes are the representative retirements of star halves Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston and lacklustre form of Michael Morgan.
"It's not looking too rosy north of the border at the moment," Maroons coach Kevin Walters conceded.
Yet NSW adviser Greg Alexander described anyone dismissing Queensland's chances as an "idiot."
But this is what has Walters and Tallis deeply concerned:
*Jacob Lillyman is averaging just 66 metres a game this year, his lowest return season since 2010;
*Cowboys forward Gavin Cooper is averaging only 67 metres each match, his worst since 2008;
*Veteran Sam Thaiday is playing 18 less minutes a game than last season and running for just 56 metres a match, his lowest season average since 2004;
*Cowboys prop Matt Scott, returning this year from an ACL, is averaging only 84 metres per game. He hasn't averaged under 100 metres in a season since 2008. Scott is also missing 2.3 tackles each match, his worst season average since 2011;
*Glasby is averaging 15 metres fewer per game compared to last season. He is also averaging 1.3 missed tackles a game, his worst ever season average;
*McGuire is averaging less runs and metres each game compared to 2017. His 123 metres per game this season is his worst season average since 2013;
*Newcastle recruit Aidan Guerra is averaging a career-worst 2.8 missed tackles a match;
*Canberra's Josh Papalii is averaging 20 fewer metres every game compared to last season and has already committed five errors this season, the same number he made for the entire 2017 season;
*Jarrod Wallace is averaging eight less tackles per game this season;
*Roosters enforcer Dylan Napa's run metres are down from 120 in 2016 to just 87 this season; and
Rising star Coen Hess is playing on average 17 minutes more per game in 2018 compared to 2017 yet is still averaging less metres per game (103 v 100).
"They are probably not playing the way they would like - if you asked them all personally they would all say their form is a little down, if they're brutally honest, and that's what you want them to be," Tallis said.
"In the past, Queensland sides have been on top of the table. Or in the top four. Brisbane, Cowboys, Melbourne Storm. Most of the players, they have been up the top. This year, one is running last, the Broncos are 10th, Melbourne had a slow start.
"But we have a month to turn it all around. With some of it, it's confidence, with others it's game time. Some are injured.
"We know how close NSW are. And I want to give (former coach) Laurie Daley a rap. But I will tell you something - I will never write off a Queensland side. They will never let you down."
Alexander offered a stern warning to any punter dismissing Queensland's chances.
"Anyone that falls into the trap of Queenslanders - and some of them are great Queenslanders - of being out of form - and therefore not having an effect on what they can offer in Origin - is an idiot," Alexander said.
"They have been doing it for 12 of the past 13 Origin series. I don't think there's much need to question their Origin credentials."
Walters told the Big Sports Breakfast his players needed to step-up.
"We have already lost Matt Gillett and Tim Glasby - he has gone under the knife with a thumb injury - it's not looking too rosy north of the border at the moment," Walters said.
Pressed on Scott's modest form, Walters said: "He has been steady like the rest of them. He is doing some good things. Coming back from a knee injury isn't always that easy, particularly when you're the other side of 30.
"But I've been OK with what he has been doing, to be honest with you. He is a very reliable player who gives his all every week. He will get better in the next couple of weeks, as we expect the rest of those Cowboys fellows.
"He has been getting some good yards for the Cowboys. His minutes are down a bit from previous years. That's part of getting his rhythm and fitness back"