“I’ve got to say, I hated playing on those [oval] grounds,” Johns said. “It takes your spacing and bearings away, plus the atmosphere is lost on you. I always found when I was playing on an oval surface, I tried to make it simple. If I was kicking long, I would go towards the corner post. That was my target.”

For a team derided for getting their kicking wrong in the game one defeat, NSW’s chief playmakers Mitchell Moses – parachuted into the team for Nicho Hynes – and Jarome Luai will have to conquer the crucial aspect on a ground they haven’t played at.

Moses, in particular, is renowned for having the best long-kicking game in the NRL alongside Cleary and will need to get quickly up to speed playing on an oval venue, subject to different wind patterns. His Origin appearances to date have been at Gold Coast’s Cbus Super Stadium, Brisbane’s Suncorp and Sydney’s Accor.

It’s not as though the Blues haven’t had success at the MCG before: they’ve won four of the five matches played there, including the last time Origin was in Victoria, Brad Fittler’s first match in charge of NSW in 2018. Cleary played his first Origin game that night.

NSW’s record at other predominantly AFL venues is mixed. They’ve recorded two thumping wins at Optus Stadium (2019 and 2022), but have lost both games at the Adelaide Oval (2020 and last year).

The last time NSW played at the MCG, a host of Blues players walked out onto the ground for their traditional captain’s run on game eve and were in awe of Australia’s biggest stadium.

They quickly found themselves at home though, with Cleary and James Maloney dominating Queensland in kicking metres (903 to 657), albeit Queensland’s Ben Hunt produced the game’s only 40/20 kick.

But the modern-day player has been helped by the Roosters playing home games at the SCG while the neighbouring Allianz Stadium was rebuilt.

“I’ve played on the SCG and Perth, you sort of get your bearings pretty quickly,” Luai said. “These last couple of weeks, we’ve done a lot of reps with kicking. I don’t think it will be a problem. We normally do a captain’s run on the field. We’ll do our reps there and get our bearings.”

with Adrian Proszenko

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