Tonight’s State of Origin signals a new era for rugby league, as 11 NSW debutants and a barely recognisable Queensland team run out onto the MCG for game one.The dominant Maroons have lost three quarters of their legendary spine this season in Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk. And the other quarter —Billy Slater — will be out at least for Origin I with a hamstring injury.
A recent history lesson:
NSW lost what appeared to be the unlosable series in 2017, after being up 16-6 with 20 minutes to go in game two last year, only to clock-watch and lose.
The decider was academic – NSW just didn’t know it at the time – but come game three Queensland were primed and ready to go and they rode off into the night with the trophy after giving NSW a lesson on how to play Origin football.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters became Lazarus and rose from the dead, his NSW counterpart Laurie Daley fell on his sword and Brad “Freddie” Fittler took over Daley’s role; it appeared he wanted selfless players who were not scarred by multiple series’ losses.
Which brings us to Game 1, 2018:
For NSW, 11 debutants are sprinkled among a few seasoned veterans adding up to a grand total of 39 Origins between them, which is the lowest number of Origin caps and most debutants for NSW since the beginning of the National Rugby League era.
Queensland have also lost a wealth of experience through the retirements of the three aforementioned players, along with the non-selection of Matt Scott and Darius Boyd.
They’ve now lost 180 games of Origin experience from last year and this is the first series since 2003 without at least one of the Slater-Thurston-Cronk-Smith spine playing.
Slater’s late withdrawal from injury further reduces Queensland’s attacking potency.
The Maroons have 84 origins among their team. Inglis will be most capped on-field with his 30 origins to date.
It’s not only “state against state, mate against mate”, it’s also a family affair, with “GI” – the 13th Origin captain of Queensland with his recent appointment – directly marking his distant relative in NSW right-centre James Roberts.
Queensland will be hoping for a big series from Inglis, meanwhile the NSW fans will be hoping “Jimmy the Jet” can rise to the occasion of preventing Inglis from doing what he does best and more often than not dominating his opposite number (see below for key match-up statistics).
They’ll also be hoping Roberts can use his blinding pace. His speed twin Josh Addo-Carr will be hoping to give Queensland headaches on the left-edge.
As enticing a prospect as the backs going at each other is, it’s forwards who win matches and the rookie packs going at each other will go a long way to deciding the outcome.
NSW skipper Boyd Cordner, with nine origin caps, is the Blues most experienced campaigner, along with NSW five-eighth James Maloney and David Klemmer, who will be starting in the front row.
The trio will be leading the way, along with Tyson Frizell who is not far behind with his five Origin matches to date.
Despite results over the past decade favouring the Maroons – 10 of the past 17 encounters have been decided by four points or less – and with Smith, Thurston and Cronk retired, it will be up to the two Josh’s in McGuire (8 origins) and Papalii (9 origins) to inspire their lesser-experienced teammates up-front.
The forward pack which gains the ascendency will go a long way to having majority possession and deciding this match, allowing their halves – Nathan Cleary and Maloney for the Blues or Queensland’s Ben Hunt and Cameron Munster – to do their thing in distributing to their outside backs.
All the while, fans will be salivating at this new era of State of Origin unfolding before them.
Queensland Maroons:14. Michael Morgan 2. Valentine Holmes 3. Greg Inglis (c) 4. Will Chambers 5. Dane Gagai 6. Cameron Munster 7. Ben Hunt 8. Dylan Napa 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Jarrod Wallace 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Felise Kaufusi 13. Josh McGuire
Interchange: 19. Anthony Milford 15. Coen Hess 16. Josh Papalii 17. Jai Arrow
Reserves: 18. Tim Glasby 20. Kalyn Ponga
NSWBlues: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Tom Trbojevic, 3 Latrell Mitchell, 4 James Roberts, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 James Maloney, 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 David Klemmer, 9 Damien Cook, 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Boyd Cordner (c), 12 Tyson Frizell, 13 Jack De Belin
Matches at the MCG: Played 4; Blues 3 wins, Maroons 1 win
Televised: Live on Channel Nine, coverage beginning 7:00pm
Betting: Sportsbet Head to Head NSW $1.42 Queensland $3.00
Series: NSW $1.42 QLD $2.95
Greg Inglis (12 appearances, 7 tries, 3 try assists, 5 line breaks. 26 tackle breaks, 82.6% tackle efficiency, 121m per game) vs James Roberts (12 appearances, 6 tries, 5 try assists, 50 tackle breaks, 6 line breaks, 81,.8% tackle efficiency, 81.6 metres per game.
Point of difference: Goal kicking; NSW possess two of the NRL sharpshooters in Nathan Cleary (86.7%) or the ever reliable James Maloney (81%) in comparison to QLD who do not have a full-time goal kicker in their squad. Valentine Holmes will goal kick for QLD (71.9%) and Cameron Munster (56%) is his back-up
Story by Caroline Layt, Aidan Fedorow and Jack Mara, interviews by Aidan Fedorow, Jack Mara and Liam Nelson; Photo and digital content produced and edited by Caroline Layt; Statistics sourced by Jack Mara from NRL.com