Queensland v New South Wales
Origin has arrived and after losing 10 of the past 11 series NSW have reason to be optimistic despite two of the three matches being played in Brisvegas. Injuries have wreaked havoc on the Maroons side, season ending injuries to Origin legends Matt Scott and Greg Inglis had already helped the Blues but the withdrawal of the best rugby league player on the planet, Jonathan Thurston has evened the odds up and made fans south of the border actually believe that a brave loss is now out of the question, they can actually win!
Adding to the positivity flowing in NSW is the controversial selections of the QLD side. The great Billy Slater has been left out to the shock of all in the league community. It had been assumed Slater was a certainty with Darius Boyd shifting to the wing where he has played the majority of his Origin career. It was such a hard decision to leave out rugby league royalty that on announcing it, coach Kevvie Walters was on the verge of tears. Though that may have been because Wayne Bennett had just torn Kevvie a new one for having the gall to select Anthony Milford at five-eighth and deny him the wonderful opportunity of playing for the depleted Broncos on their suicide mission to Auckland on the weekend.
Bennett loves feathering his own nest, mess with his babies and he swoops like a bad-tempered magpie on a lycra clad cyclist but the covering of Thurston with Milf was justified when Thurston pulled out. In-fighting by the banana benders is rarely exposed as they love keeping everything in house, what happens in QLD stays in QLD, but Bennett’s butt in was not received well. As I said what happens in QLD…
Origin loves a conspiracy and the Blues believe Thurston will play, especially as he was pulled so early. Usually a player of his standing is given until the last moment. The Blues won’t believe JT isn’t playing until they see the Maroons run onto the field. If JT does play, the roar of the 52,000 well lubricated Cane Toad lovers will be heard all the way from the Caxton Hotel to Cape York!
Young Maroon guns Coen Hess, Jarrod Wallace and Valentine Holmes have missed out as the QLD selectors are showing their usual loyalty going with hard heads Nate Myles, Jacob Lillyman and Aidan Guerra despite their ordinary club performances. Game One is pivotal to the series and with all the experience missing through injury, QLD don’t want to throw too many debutants in the deep end. I personally would love to see Coen Hess raging off the bench! Dylan Napa has made the team and he will rock the Cockroaches, Napa was made for Origin.
NSW has selected in form players who they hope are ready to break the stranglehold QLD have had on them. The major inclusion is at halfback where Mitchell Pearce will face his Origin demons. Laurie Daley, by removing Robbie Farah from hooker, has put faith in Pearce and James Maloney to run the show. Pearce AAD16 (After Australia Day 2016) is a different person and player, and is by far the best number 7 in the state. His form demanded selection and will want to repay the faith Daley has shown in him with a huge game, can Pearce conquer the occasion, control the tempo of the match and finish sets off with the right options? You can bet the Maroons will be in his face all night, the heat will be on Pearce from the first to last minute, Daley will hope he keeps his cool or NSW really will have the blues.
NSW have done their best to squeeze in as many backrowers as they can, it is their strength. Any team that has Wade Graham coming off the bench must be unbelievably strong. Boyd Cordner captains the Blues and is the ideal choice. He’ll play 80 minutes and leads by example. Cordner never plays a bad game, don’t expect one here.
The benches are where NSW hold a massive advantage. NSW has power and X factor, though where Jack Bird features is a mystery. A cameo from dummy half to rest Peats is my guess. QLD will trust their experienced men like Jacob Lillyman to do their job. Sam Thaiday is the man off the bench QLD will look to bend the Blues back when he tears onto the field. Big Sam grows an extra leg in the theatre of state rivalry, Origin excites the big fella! In fact, make that all the Maroons. Denigrate selections like Myles, Guerra and Lillyman at your peril, they have always played brilliantly at this level no matter what their club form is.
The tradition of Origin matches continues, it will be tough and tight. Andrew Fifita could be the man to break QLD’s dominance. He proved in the Grand Final he loves the big stage and will revel in the Colosseum like atmosphere. Gladiatorial clashes fit Fifita like tailor made armour, Daley will hope on his command Fifita will unleash hell!
The edge match ups are quality, the battles between Matt Gillett, Josh Papalii for QLD and Boyd Cordner, Josh Jackson and Wade Graham for NSW, will be a highlight. They are all stone walls and it will take some genius like a hot stepping Milford or the blinding speed of James Tedesco to break it down.
The key for me is in the halves. Cooper Cronk will deliver, he always has in Origin. The question marks are over Mitchell Pearce. If he is given good field position and momentum by the forwards combined with slick service from debutant Nathan Peats, then NSW are a great chance. The Maroons via skipper Cameron Smith are the Kings of the ruck, slowing it down and controlling it. Officiating this will be crucial but with referees historically loathe to blow the whistle, the Blues must win this area and the power game of their huge forward pack will be paramount.
As always there will be nothing much in this. QLD have the advantage of the immense experience in the combination of Smith, Cronk and Boyd, in career best form, whose slickness and timing is always to perfection. NSW need to limit their opportunities and time, which is where the Blues Achilles heel is found in the threequarters. Decision making in the centres and wings could make or break the Blues. The centre wing combinations better by in sync or it will be curtains.
It’s Game One, it’s in QLD, it’s at the cauldron but no Scott, no Inglis, no Thurston, no Slater… if NSW cannot win this match they may as well hand the trophy to QLD now.
NSW it’s time.
New South Wales by 4
Enjoy the footy and gamble responsibly. Origin is the best footy you’ll watch all year! I’m just praying for a great match between two brilliant sides that won’t involve match deciding officiating or Bunker bungles… I won’t hold my breath.
May the best state win.