MAROONS coach Kevin Walters has backed Anthony Milford to rise to the challenge of helping a "transitional" Queensland team rise in what he believes will be a bruising Origin opener tonight.
Walters was happy to grab the underdog tag after losing Johnathan Thurston to injury in a team already missing the experienced Matt Scott and Greg Inglis.
He backed Milford to shine but said the Broncos half needed to be on song throughout the game and not just come into his own for patches of the match.
"We need him in the game for 80 minutes, not just different periods," Walters said.
"That's what Anthony brings to the team and I think playing with Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith and especially Darius (Boyd) at the back is going to really help his game.
"There'll be different pressures on him from clubland but we believe he's capable of handling those pressures."
And Milford would not be protected.
"He's got to defend for himself. Milf will be fine, we've got a lot of confidence in Anthony and his ability to get the job done for Queensland, I'm really excited to see him out there," Walters said.
"I know they're going to put him under pressure and that's great but I've got no doubt that Milf will handle that pressure and then come back with a little bit more.
"There is some pressure on him, no doubt, it's Origin.
"But I think he'll handle it well. He's played in a grand final before ... and he's played in big games here for the Broncos. But this is the next step up. The good players handle the pressure and that's why we believe Anthony will handle it."
NSW is expected to send plenty of traffic at the rookie half, although coach Laurie Daley believes Thurston's omission could become a rallying point for the Maroons and was not about to give them more ammunition by labelling Milford a liability.
"Obviously Milford will bring plenty of energy and he's a danger with the ball," Daley said when asked whether he expected the Maroons to play differently lining up without Thurston for the first time in more than a decade.
"But they always try and find a way to rally the troops and have that us against them mentality.
"They'll do it again, they'll come up with something that tries to gel them all together and bring them all together."
It's what Walters is hoping for as well.
"That's always been the way with Queensland, you don't always go into a series or into a game as favourites," he said.
"NSW have got that tag at the moment and probably rightly so with the changes to our side.
"We know we're coming here with a very good side and a side that's capable of creating a great performance."
Daley has warned his team about the pride of the wounded Maroons.
"It'd be naive to think that just because they're missing a couple of their big-name players that they wouldn't be ready," Daley said.
"Origin history, in particular Queensland's history, has been built on the back of people saying (they can't win).
"They will be as well prepared as ever, they'll be as tough as ever and our guys need to understand that because this is the time that they like.
"They like when people are starting to doubt them.
"But I can guarantee you this group won't doubt them and I won't doubt them."
Daley said he had not met with officials ahead of tonight's game but admitted he was expecting the Maroons to try to slow down the game and dominate the ruck.
"They tried to slow it down last year and we're expecting the same this year," Daley said. "They certainly try and dominate the ruck, we didn't have much room to move last year. I thought the games were slow last year compared to usual Origin games and I hope that's different this year.
"You just want them to referee the same they do in the NRL, that's all we've asked."
Walters hit back, though, saying Daley's complaints were a case of the Blues coach "doing his best for NSW".
"Game one traditionally is a tough game, very physical, not a lot between both sides, and that'll be the case again this year," he said.
"If you look at the teams on paper, they've got some big bodies there, so we need to slow them down somehow.
"I'm very happy with the officials appointed and we look forward to working with those through the game," Walters added.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.