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NSW Origin rookie Trent Hodkinson will have nowhere to hide, says Cameron Smith

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Phil Lutton
Baptism of fire: Trent Hodkinson. © Getty Images Baptism of fire: Trent Hodkinson.

Queensland will ensure Trent Hodkinson gets an 80-minute examination of his Origin credentials as the Blues halfback comes under the microscope a day out from the series opener in Brisbane.

NSW have taken some selection gambles but Hodkinson will be one of the men under the most pressure, replacing Mitchell Pearce in the No.7 jumper as the Blues keep searching for the playmakers to finally lead them to a series win.

Hodkinson pairs with Bulldogs teammate Josh Reynolds and shouldn't expect a free pass in his first taste of Origin football. Queensland have little doubt the fiery Reynolds will step up to the plate but Hodkinson appears to be the one in their sights.

Queensland skipper Cameron Smith said he rated both players highly but it was only natural that the rookie halfback would be asked a barrage of attacking and defensive questions in the thundering cauldron of Suncorp Stadium.

And there will be no relenting, and Smith says the Maroons will be testing his resolve from the first minute to the last as they find out whether he can make the significant leap from club football to Origin.

"It's a big jump," Smith said. "It's faster, it's more physical for 80 minutes. It's not sort each other out in the first 20 then it dies off a bit. It's flat out from the first whistle to the last whistle.

"Reynolds has been there before in a different role, he knows what it's about. Hodkinson is coming into his first match, so it's an opportunity for us to really test him out and see how he handles it."

Queensland has a clear advantage on paper in several positions across the park, but rarely is it so pronounced as in the halves.

While the Blues swapped James Maloney and Pearce for the untried Hodkinson-Reynolds, the Maroons are bristling with proven match-winner Cooper Cronk and an all-time great in Johnathan Thurston.

Then there's the luxury of having Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans – rated by many as the best halfback in the game – waiting on the bench, destined to see time as a playmaker.

"We're lucky – we've got three of the best," Smith said. "One's on the bench. It could be a difference. But it's up to us to take their halves out of the the game, or minimise what they do in the game.

"Particularly Reynolds – he's quite an X-factor-type player and he's been playing like that for the last couple of years for the Bulldogs. Hodkinson is a wonderful player. He really steadies the ship, he's got a strong kicking game, he doesn't get flustered at all.

"We need to apply pressure to them as a team, both in attack, when they have the footy, and when they're defending to try and get some blokes running at them and really test them out."

There will be no excuses for Queensland if they falter in game one. They have a key home-ground advantage and a full complement of players bar Sam Thaiday, who excused himself from selection after suffering a calf injury.

The preparation has been flawless, and Smith said coach Mal Meninga had produced the perfect balance in camp, while conceding they may have been overcooked in previous years.

"We've come into games before where we've tried to overprepare," Smith said. "That's been a hindrance more than something that's helped us. The feedback from previous years is training but more rest, so we feel we're ready to go on Wednesday night."

Maroons centre Justin Hodges trained strongly and would be ready to play, Smith said.

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