With their tails between their legs following their humiliating 50-6 Game 1 defeat in Townsville two weeks ago, Queensland will be out to make a huge statement and hit back with a vengeance in Game 2 at Suncorp Stadium this Sunday night.
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After the Queensland government spent $8 million to purchase the game from Victoria, which went into its fourth lockdown since the start of the pandemic last month, the Maroons not just failed to deliver, but they also embarrassed themselves in front of their fans in the tropics.
The players will have no doubt held a brutal review into that match, and now the onus will be on Paul Green’s side to ensure there is no repeat in Brisbane, where they are unbeaten against the Blues since Game 1, 2017.
Veteran Dragons pair Andrew McCullough and Ben Hunt have been recalled, as has Raiders forward Josh Papalii, while Warriors rookie Reece Walsh has been named to make his Origin debut after playing just seven NRL games.
Walsh’s selection copped harsh criticism from Blues legend Phil Gould, who slammed the decision as “disgraceful” given he’s been entrusted with attempting to solve the Maroons’ woes in the short term.
Cowboys forward Francis Molo, who will join the Dragons next year, will be the Maroons’ other debutant as coach Paul Green looks to add some grunt to the forwards.
Harry Grant and Kalyn Ponga have both been ruled out due to injury, while Xavier Coates has been dropped, with Valentine Holmes shifting to the wing to make way for Walsh’s debut in the number one jumper.
Coates’ omission from the squad means it is the first time since 1997 that no Brisbane Broncos player has been named in the Queensland side. That year, there was the one-off Super League Tri-Series in which Broncos players were eligible for selection.
The Queensland side for Game 2 is as follows: Reece Walsh, Valentine Holmes, Kurt Capewell, Dane Gagai, Kyle Feldt, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans (captain), Christian Welch, Andrew McCullough, Josh Papalii, Jai Arrow, Felise Kaufusi, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Interchange: Ben Hunt, Moeaki Fotuaika, David Fifita, Francis Molo. 18th man: Coen Hess. 19th man: Ronaldo Mulitalo.
In: Reece Walsh (debut), Andrew McCullough, Josh Papalii, Ben Hunt, Francis Molo.
Out: Xavier Coates, Harry Grant (injured), AJ Brimson, Joe Ofahengaue, Jaydn Su’A.
Fresh off their biggest ever win in Queensland, and also their biggest ever Origin victory, New South Wales has the chance this Sunday night to wrap up the series, which will guarantee a COVID-safe sell-out crowd when they return home for Game 3 in Sydney on July 14.
In Game 1, Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell both ran riot against the Maroons in Townsville, with the former scoring a hat trick and the latter making the most of his return to the side after not featuring in last year’s end-of-season series.
But that hasn’t stopped coach Brad Fittler from having to make changes to his squad, with Jake Trbojevic the only forced omission due to injury. In his place, Junior Paulo comes in while Angus Crichton returns after missing Game 1 due to suspension.
Storm forward Dale Finucane also comes into the squad, with Fittler to keep his starting side a secret up until game day.
One major hoodoo facing Fittler and the Blues is that not only have they not won at Suncorp Stadium since Game 1, 2017, they have also not won a Game 2 in Brisbane since 2000. That year, they went on to clean sweep the series with a crushing Game 3 win in Sydney.
And while they may have won Game 1 easily, it will not mean anything if they cannot win the series. Four years ago, after winning the first game 28-4 in Brisbane, the Blues – who named an unchanged squad throughout – then lost the series after losing Games 2 and 3.
The New South Wales squad for Game 2 is as follows: Josh Addo-Carr, Nathan Cleary (vice-captain), Damien Cook, Angus Crichton, Dale Finucane, Campbell Graham, Payne Haas, Apisai Koroisau, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin, Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray, Junior Paulo, Daniel Saifiti, Tariq Sims, James Tedesco (captain), Brian To’o, Tom Trbojevic, Jack Wighton, Isaah Yeo.
In: Junior Paulo, Angus Crichton, Dale Finucane.
Out: Jake Trbojevic (injured).
It’s all there for New South Wales to claim the series with a hoodoo-breaking win in Brisbane on Sunday night, while for Queensland it will be all about redemption as they try to hit back hard from their Game 1 humiliation with victory at their traditional Brisbane home.
A win for the Blues will see the series under lock and key, otherwise a Maroons win will see the series decided at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14.
Before the men’s second Origin game on Sunday night, the women’s Origin will be contested at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Friday night, with the Maroons – led by Ali Brigginshaw – out to defend the shield they won last November.
The Maroons won last year’s standalone match by 24-18, after scores were level at six-all at halftime, with five-eighth Tarryn Aiken winning the Nellie Doherty Medal for being the best on ground.
New South Wales will once again be led by Kezie Apps, who led her side to wins at North Sydney Oval in 2018 and 2019, but will have to regain the shield the hard way with the once-only match being played on the Sunshine Coast for the second consecutive year.
Apps aside, the Blues will also have two of the best centres in the women’s game, Jessica Sergis and Isabelle Kelly, lining up next to each other, while Botille Vette-Welsh starts at fullback.
It will be the fourth match to be played under the State of Origin banner, with previous matches dating back to 1999 played under the Women’s Interstate Challenge banner, during which time the Maroons were predominantly the better side.
In a first for the concept, both sides will be coached by women, with Tahnee Norris and Kylie Hilder taking over the Queensland and New South Wales sides from Jason Hetherington and Andy Patmore respectively.
Queensland women’s Origin side: Tamika Upton, Shenae Ciesiolka, Lauren Brown, Julia Robinson, Karina Brown, Tarryn Aiken, Zahara Temara, Chelsea Lenarduzzi, Destiny Brill, Shannon Mato, Tazmin Gray, Tiana Raftstrand-Smith, Ali Brigginshaw (captain). Interchange: Romy Teitzel, Natassja Purontakanen, Shaniah Power, Brianna Clark, Tallisha Harden, Rona Peters. Coach: Tahnee Norris.
New South Wales women’s Origin side: Botille Vette-Welsh, Yasmin Meakes, Jessica Sergis, Isabelle Kelly, Tiana Penitani, Corban Baxter, Maddie Studdon, Simaima Taufa, Keeley Davis, Millie Boyle, Kezie Apps (captain), Sarah Togatuki, Hannah Southwell. Interchange: Quincy Dodd, Filomina Hanisi, Kennedy Cherrington, Holli Wheeler, Brydie Parker, Renee Targett. Coach: Kylie Hilder.
It therefore stands to be a huge weekend for Queensland Origin fans, with their women’s side eager to defend the shield they won last year, and their men’s side desperate to regain some respect and level the series ahead of Game 3 at Stadium Australia in Sydney.