Wednesday night pits state against state, mate against mate, in the series Rugby League fans look forward to every year – State of Origin.
State of Origin epitomises the long-running rivalry between New South Wales and Queensland and has spurred the game’s finest to their best performances every year since its inception in 1980.
Queensland, coming off a record 52-6 victory and series win last year have predictably gone for the tried and tested warriors who’ve formed the core of their team for seven years, with just the young Brisbane winger Corey Oates and Justin O’Neill making their debuts. Queensland has arguably the best player in the game, Johnathan Thurston, and the best captain in the game, Cameron Smith. The big question at the moment is whether new coach Kevin Walters (Mal Meninga relinquished the role to coach the Australian side) is playing mind games to unsettle the NSW Blues camp. Cooper Cronk was reported to have injured his ankle while training and was rumoured to be a definite scratching while Daly Cherry Evans flew up at short notice to join the squad, but has apparently now been told to return to Manly. Walters is no newcomer to Origin – he played 20 games for Queensland from 1989 to 1999 – but this is his first outing as an Origin coach.
NSW coach Laurie Daley has made far more changes. Paul Gallen will be captain but needs to impress; he’ll be 35 in August and there’ve been rumblings, notably from legend Peter Sterling, that he should stand down and let Daley blood a new leader. Mitchell Pearce, Luke Lewis and Brett Morris are out of the team, instead James Maloney and Adam Reynolds will play at six and seven. Michael Ennis was snubbed by Daley who preferred Robbie Farah at hooker. Two dynamic young Panthers will debut – Matt Moylan at full-back and Josh Mansour on the wing. Dylan Walker will debut in the number14 jumper as the utility spark. Andrew Fifita and Blake Ferguson return to the lineup and are now joined by Josh Morris, replacing the injured Josh Dugan. Morris has the unenviable task of attempting to contain Greg Inglis.
The forward pack battle is expected to be the highlight of the match with Sam Thaiday, Matt Scott and Corey Parker up against David Klemmer, Josh Jackson and Aaron Woods.
Game One kicks off at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium with a start time of 8:05pm. A capacity crowd of 80,000 is expected. – Jesse Mullens
Photo of Michael Jennings celebrates a try in the Origin series last year from the NRL website.