After last year’s Origin series was shifted to the end of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual three-game series returns to its traditional mid-season slot, with the first game to be held in Townsville tomorrow night.
State of Origin 1 coverage
» REPORT: NSW rewrite history with 50-6 obliteration
» TALKING POINTS: How can Queensland possibly recover?
» Tom Trbojevic named man of the match
» Origin 1 as it happened; play-by-play blog
» State of Origin results
» Full Origin 2021 series fixtures
It will be the first time in history that an Origin match is played in regional Australia, after the Queensland government bought the rights to the opening game, which was removed from Melbourne due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Victoria.
With Brisbane also hosting Game 2, the first game in North Queensland will provide the Maroons the perfect platform with which to successfully defend the shield they so unexpectedly won six and a half months ago.
This means that New South Wales faces the possibility of not just a second consecutive series defeat, but also the fact that their only game in Sydney this year on July 14 could be a dead rubber, thus robbing long-suffering Blues fans of a live decider.
Game 1 will also double as the first match as Maroons coach for Paul Green, who of course coached the Cowboys for six and a half years between 2014 and mid-2020, during which time the club won its long-awaited maiden premiership in 2015.
He replaces Wayne Bennett, who led the state to a famous victory last November after Kevin Walters stood down following his appointment as Brisbane Broncos coach.
The Maroons’ bid to defend their shield has copped a blow, with Kalyn Ponga and Dane Gagai both ruled out of the opening game due to a groin injury and illness, respectively, while Cameron Munster is in doubt due to a foot injury but should play tomorrow night.
Dragons captain Ben Hunt has been drafted into the squad as 19th man, while Daly Cherry-Evans will again captain the side after leading what was dubbed ‘the worst Queensland side ever’ to victory in last November’s rescheduled series.
The likely Queensland team for Game 1 is as follows: Valentine Holmes, Xavier Coates, Dane Gagai, Kurt Capewell, Kyle Feldt, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans (c), Christian Welch, Harry Grant, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, David Fifita, Felise Kaufusi, Jai Arrow. Interchange: AJ Brimson, Moeaki Fotuaika, Joe Ofahengaue, Jaydn Su’A. 18th man: Coen Hess. 19th man: Ben Hunt.
As if having to play the opening two games in Queensland wasn’t enough, the Blues will have it even tougher attempting to wrest back the shield they lost last year.
NSW coach Brad Fittler enters this series under pressure to regain the shield after the Blues lost the unlosable series, during which he copped criticism for naming four forwards on his bench in that fateful third game at Suncorp Stadium.
In that match, James Tedesco and Cody Walker both suffered game-ending injuries, which conspired against them as they lost their 12th series in the past 15 years dating back to 2006.
With Boyd Cordner sitting out the series, the captaincy has been bestowed onto Tedesco, who has also led the Roosters in an interim capacity with the side having been decimated by injuries in the first half of the season.
Knights enforcer Tyson Frizell will also miss the entire series after suffering an ankle injury in the Knights’ 18-10 home win over the Sea Eagles in Round 11.
As expected, the Penrith Panthers’ dominant start to the season, which came to an end when they were defeated by the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval last Friday night, has been reflected in the Blues’ squad, with six players selected.
Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary have been entrusted with leading the side in the halves, while Brian To’o, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo and Apisai Koroisau have also been called up, while Rabbitohs centre Latrell Mitchell also returns after missing last year’s series.
The likely New South Wales team for Game 1 is as follows: James Tedesco, Brian To’o, Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic, Josh Addo-Carr, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, Daniel Saifiti, Damien Cook, Jake Trbojevic, Cameron Murray, Tariq Sims, Isaah Yeo. Interchange: Jack Wighton, Junior Paulo, Payne Haas, Liam Martin. 18th man: Api Koroisau. 19th man: Campbell Graham.
There are so many questions to be asked as we count down towards the first State of Origin match – not least of which includes whether the Maroons can successfully defend the shield they’ve held for over six months, with the first two games on their home soil.
From a Blues point of view, it will remain to be seen whether the southerners can regain the shield for just the fourth time since 2005, or whether they could be in for another prolonged period of Origin misery.
Another question to be asked is whether the six Penrith Panthers players named in the side can translate their dominant club form into the pressure cooker that is State of Origin, and whether Latrell Mitchell can lift in his first Origin match since 2019.
Bring it on!