They were given next to no chance of winning a game this series, but somehow, Queensland have once again earned bragging rights in the traditional interstate showdown.
Ahhh, can you smell it?
No, not spring-come-summer. Not stubbies and barbecues by the beach, not schooners and disappointment by the track.
No, it’s Origin.
The best time of the year, irrespective of the day, week, month or season in which it’s played.
The time when you forget about everything else in the world, just for 80 minutes (three times) and watch the most brilliant, breathtaking and spellbinding exhibition of sporting magic that the rugby league gods have to offer.
And it’s just around the corner.
This year’s series will be like no other, not least the ones that have come before it in the modern era. Played at the end of the season, in consecutive weeks, within a second COVID-related bubble, Origin 2020 will push the players involved to their absolute limit.
It’s no wonder that 27-man squads have been mandated. It’s also no surprise that the great Tom Trbojevic has decided that his body just might not be up to it this time around.
This year’s series will also be different – but weirdly familiar for those born before 1990 – because of some of the central characters involved.
Enter, the Great Wayne.
Wayne Bennett. The master coach. The super coach. The industrial complex that transcends the art of simply coaching a footy team.
Indeed, Bennett returns looking to spoil NSW’s two-year-long party. A party kicked off by James Tedesco in 2018 and, well, resumed by James Tedesco in 2019. For the record, Tedesco will be at this year’s party too (barring injury, of course).
With Tedesco will be some of the usual suspects, some new faces and some blokes that have gone up six gears in 2020.
Specifically, with Tedesco will be Damien Cook, Luke Keary and Nathan Cleary.
The form of the latter has been stupendous in 2020. Indeed, the Penrith halfback has gone from a kid with a fair bit of potential who some believe is over-rated to the best halfback in the comp bar none. If Penrith win the premiership this year, the smart money is on Cleary to win the Clive Churchill Medal. That’s after he likely wraps up the Dally M too.
Who said TikTok isn’t good for young footy players?
Keary will likely make his Origin debut, which is bizarre in itself. He is, after all, a 28-year-old who has won three comps, a Clive Churchill Medal, two caps for Australia and who has been widely considered as one of the best halves in the game for four consecutive seasons. Will he be overawed? Doubt it.
Damien Cook is the current Test dummy half whose game has gone to another level due largely (and somewhat ironically) to his club coach, the great Bennett. Also spurring on Cook to reach greater heights is the fact Penrith’s Api Korisau – the buy of the year – is snapping mercilessly at his heels.
Beyond the spine, NSW are completely stacked.
Specifically, look at these two teams.
1. James Tedesco
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Jack Wighton
4. Campbell Graham
5. Josh Addo-Carr
6. Luke Keary
7. Nathan Cleary
8. David Klemmer
9. Damien Cook
10. Payne Haas
11. Boyd Cordner
12. Tyson Frizell
13. Jake Trbojevic
14. Ryan Papenhuyzen
15. Cameron Murray
16. Dale Finucane
17. Daniel Saifiti
1. Clint Gutherson
2. Blake Ferguson
3. Stephen Crichton
4. Zac Lomax
5. Nick Cotric
6. Cody Walker
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Paul Vaughan
9. Api Koroisau
10. Junior Paulo
11. Wade Graham
12. Ryan Matterson
13. Nathan Brown
14. Cameron McInnes
15. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
16. Angus Crichton
17. Tariq Sims
What you are looking at above is two teams that would beat Queensland. If you have any doubt about that, go and watch what Cody Walker did to the Roosters last weekend. Not bad for a bloke who probably won’t even start in NSW’s first 17.
The four centres? They’d all walk into the Queensland side. They and 20 other centres only eligible for the Blues.
Indeed, the Blues just have too much depth. Combine that with the fact that the core of the team has remained largely in tact since their ground-breaking win in 2018 and you have all the ingredients for a big, juicy three-peat.
While Bennett’s contribution will be worth the price of admission before a ball is even kicked, he won’t have the secret tonic to overcome the sheer weight of the Blue machine.
No, this NSW team is just too good.
Sorry Queensland, but you may be on the wrong end of another eight in a row.