It's time to bunker down on a cold night for what is sure to be another heated State of Origin opener!
NSW v QLD - Game 1 (ANZ Stadium)
The Blues hierarchy, headed by coach Laurie Daley, has recognised the need for change and have three debutants in the starting squad headed by halfback Adam Reynolds along with Penrith duo Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour.
It is interesting to note that Daley and the NSW selectors have seemingly gone on form rather than reputation, with a number of Sharks players in the team including captain Paul Gallen. Cronulla are equal first on the NRL ladder and that has seen call ups for James Maloney (five-eighth) and Andrew Fifita.
Being at ANZ Stadium will be a big help for the Blues in their quest to stop Queensland from winning a tenth Origin series in 11 years. Six of the eight Game I’s played at the venue have gone to NSW, however, one of those losses came last year in a narrow 11-10 result. Winning Game I will see NSW go a long way to clinching the series as 11 of their 13 triumphs have come after winning the opening game. Although packed with size and youth, the Blues still face an uphill battle to beat the defending champions.
Queensland has two new faces to their squad in Broncos flyer Corey Oates and also Justin O’neill, with the latter taking the spot held by Justin Hodges who retired at the end of last season. Their squad has 252 games of Origin experience as opposed to the Blues who have just 111 games between them. It must also be remembered that Kevin Walters has replaced Mal Meninga and will be the Head Coach of the Maroons for the first time in his own right.
Blues centre Josh Morris, called into the squad late to replace the injured Josh Dugan, will have his hands full but has done a tremendous job in negating Greg Inglis when marking him in previous series’. NSW isn’t the only team with concerns in this regard with Queensland’s halfback Cooper Cronk rolling an ankle in training late last week. He will be given to the last minute to prove his fitness.
Inglis will line up in the centres for this game while Darius Boyd, an Origin regular on the wing, is in his customary role of fullback. Inglis is Origin’s equal all-time leading tryscorer (17) and always seems to grow a leg at this time of the year.
Boyd is second on the all-time leading tryscorers list for Origin on 16. In fact, he and Inglis have more tries at this level than the entire NSW team combined! On that proviso we suggest a small wager on both Boyd ($4.20 Ladbrokes) and Inglis ($3.40 Bookmaker.com) to be anytime try scorers and if one of them scores, you will finish in front, if both score, happy days.
IT’S GOING TO BE A THRILLER
Like most Origin contests we can see this one going down to the wire. In recent years the Blues have made it hard on themselves with errors that have gifted this brilliant Queensland side field position to attack. With the exception of last year’s Game III blowout, the Blues defence has actually done well to keep them in most games. If it does come down to goal kicking both sides are adequately taken care of with Johnathan Thurston tallying 89 goals in Origin which has been the main contributor to his 200 total points.
While the Blues don’t have great experience in Origin goal kicking, Maloney and Reynolds combined have kicked over 950 goals during their NRL careers. Thurston is going to be the big key to the success of both teams on Wednesday night. Having guided the Cowboys to their maiden NRL premiership last season while also capturing a record fourth Dally M Medal, Thurston is still performing at an elite level despite being 33. He is a big game master and the Blues need to contain the damage he does if they are to stand a chance in going one-up in the series.
We need to find a winner of the game and we are tipping the desperation of the Blues ($1.92 UNIBET) to see out Origin 1 here. They will be keen to erase that flogging from last year’s decider and get this series off on the right footing, with a vital win. There could be some decent value found in the NSW 1-12 Margin ($2.75 William Hill) if you believe the Blues will only scrape past the QLD’ers. James Maloney will have to play a big part in a Blues victory so a few dollars on him @ $21 (Ladbrokes) to be Man Of The Match could round out a big night if you are a Blues fan.