That time of year has once again rolled around, and with all the necessary media attention and hype you’d expect.
No I’m not talking about the international rugby window, something much more exciting. State Of Origin.
Where Australia, and New Zealand, are now divided in their loyalties. New South Wales or Queensland.
I’ll try not to make this preview bias, but the first half will be mainly about the Cockroaches.
If you’ve been reading my Origin pieces for the last five years or so, you know I’m a Blues supporter. Always have been. Much like my mum, she loves league and Origin, and that’s where I get it from.
My dad is a Queensland fan, sadly. He stays somewhat silent about Origin, despite their absolute dominance over the last decade. Winning 10 of the last 11 series.
If you wind the clock back to 2014, the Blues were lucky enough to upstage the Maroons in a tight Origin affair, with Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds in the halves for New South Wales.
I watched these games unfold in my room, in a sleep out, on the back section of a property in Gisborne. I still remember the feeling, but not having my usual group of friends to share it with. Hopefully this year is different.
I’m absolutely ready to replicate those feelings this season, much like every other New South Wales supporter.
In an all too familiar setting, the Blues are getting ready for another rebrand, another shot at glory, another coach, another set of players. Somehow this feels different.
Brad Fittler has named 11 players on debut. A record amount will take the field in this first match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
This is the most inexperienced New South Wales Origin side since Frank Stanton’s 1984 Game 3 team. Which saw 26 games between the 15 players. In this 2018 side, there’s 39.
That 1984 side holds plenty of legendary names. Garry Jack, slippery Steve Morris, the Mortimer brothers, Brett Kenny, and Peter Wynn to name a few.
The scene is set for these 11 debutante’s to take the field, and make history themselves.
What makes this exciting for New South Wales is that you can actually visualise this side winning. They hold a lot of form players from the first half of this National Rugby League season.
Now if you’ve started to believe the hype, just take a step back and admire just how well this Queensland has performed under duress. Let’s take a look at last season’s series.
“Too old, too slow” was the catch cry after their Origin 1 bomb loss 28-4. The Blues once again sucked in to thinking they would waltz over the Queenslanders in game two and three, and threw their chances in the bin, along with a few players who will never don the sky blue again.
This year’s Queensland side still has so many talented, consistent players who know how to get it done when the pressure is on. 10 Premiership winners among the starting 17 (before Slater was ruled out late on Monday) shows that they have picked once again a strong, balanced side.
It’s still a bit up in the air with who will fill in for Slater, but regardless, I am sure they’ll be the right fit.
That Queensland backline replicates what you’d expect the Kangaroos backline to be. Players who will never let you down. Players who play the big games on the big stage, and get the result.
That’s Queensland’s mantra, really. Turn up on the biggest state, and put in the performance of your life to get the result. Put your body on the line. Support your team mates, and make a difference.
You have to appreciate the Cane Toads juggernaut. Just a well-oiled machine. It’s impressive.
You can never, and should never, ever write Queensland off. They know what’s at stake, and they’ll do it the Queensland way to win.
GAME ONE, GAME ON
I’m very interested to see how the first instalment of State Of Origin 2018 will play out. There’s no doubting the Queensland side have lost a wealth of experience in the retirements of Cronk, Thurston, and Smith. Add to that the injury setback of Slater – and that’s 130 Origin games between them.
Throw in the mix their three debutantes. Kiwi born Felise Kafusi, he’s represented Australia in a World Cup winning side. Jai Arrow and Andrew McCullough, both fit the Origin mould perfectly.
I would go out to say that this is the most exciting Origin series ahead in a long time. Both sides are almost starting fresh, and it’s brought back the excitement of the whole thing. The unknown about how this game will go.
What New South Wales can bank on, is the Panthers partnership in the halves of Maloney and Cleary.
James Maloney, in my eyes, is the best game manager in rugby league right know. You can count on this man to stand up when the time is right. Despite being a turn style on defence, he’s in form and destructive.
Nathan Cleary has the energy and excitement around him. You can see him filling the 7 jersey for the next 12 years. He’s come back from his knee injury perfectly, and is more than ready for the big stage.
Paired up against the Queensland halves of Hunt and Munster. Ben Hunt is a traditional styled halfback. He’s got a brilliant kicking game, and has the ball on the string. It’s impressive.
Cameron Munster is the player who can explode with pace through the line, and set the fullback up for a try. He has a lot of strength in running the ball, that it puts the defence in two minds all game.
There’s just so much raw pace in this New South Wales backline. James Tedesco is the slowest, and he is by no means a slouch. Addo-Carr, Roberts, Trbojevic, Mitchell, all speedsters with a high work ethic. Exciting amounts of pace.
Queensland’s backline are a bunch of guys who are strong, fast, and decisive. Inglis, Chambers, Holmes, and 2017 player of the series Gagai will line up and give it their all. You can see an offload from Inglis or Chambers setting up their wingers, or their wingers catching a Hunt bomb to score.
I think the New South Wales pack is more in form so far this year. A lot of these blokes have been awesome and consistent all season. Klemmer, Cook, Campbell-Gillard, Captain Cordner, Frizell and De Belin. It’s hard to deny the talent and strength these 6 blokes possess. Players with accountability, and players who will not die wondering.
Queensland’s pack is big, with Napa, McCullough, Wallace, Cooper, Kaufusi, and McGuire are all players who know what’s expected of them.
Napa will be the big enforcer, with Wallace, and McGuire getting ready to take the nitty-gritty runs off their own line, while Cooper and Kaufusi are dangerous in the fringes. Hard to find a weakness here.
Cockroaches Vaughan, Trbojevic, Crichton, and Peachey. All deserved of their call up to Origin level. There’s a lot of added value in here. When the starters are tired, this is the bench you want to look to. Especially the dangerous Tyrone Peachey. Anything can happen when that bloke is on the field.
Cane Toads Morgan, Papalii, Hess, and Arrow. Sharp, smart forwards who will make a difference. Hess is really the danger man here. He loves scoring tries, a big bodied forward who is hard to tackle. Morgan will snipe around the ruck to cause havoc too.
Like many Origins before this, the first twenty minutes will dictate the whole match.
If the referees can stop blowing their whistles every set of six for a penalty, we’ll be able to see an incredible match of football.
The first twenty is important for so many reasons. Who will win the ruck? Who’s kicking game will find space? Who’s defence will stand up on their line when it counts?
Queensland will deliver a strong start, that’s always a given. They’ll be running on adrenalin and pumped up.
The Blues need to not panic. We’ve seen this many times before. They just have to play the game they want. Don’t let the Maroons unsettle them. They’ll have a game plan that is right, and they just have to bide their time.
Expect plenty of fireworks, edge of your seat stuff, plus all the other superlatives and cliché’s you can think of.
I’m going to back New South Wales to win. 24-18. Reagan Campbell-Gillard to score the first try.
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