One of rugby league’s fiercest rivalries resumes on Wednesday when Queensland and New South Wales clash in the first game of the 2021 State of Origin series, live on Sky Sports.
The Maroons are aiming to make it back-to-back triumphs, having claimed a surprise 2-1 series win over the Blues after clinching victory in the decider at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium in 2020.
Ahead of the opening match of this year’s series in Townsville, we take a look at what is being said in both camps and how the teams are set to line up…
Queensland vs New South Wales
June 9, 2021, 10:00am
Can Queensland overcome disruption and inexperience?
With the opener for the 2021 Origin series switched to Queensland Country Bank Stadium from the Melbourne Cricket Ground due to Victoria being placed in lockdown to combat a Covid-19 outbreak in the state, the Maroons will have home advantage for the first two matches this year.
They will have capacity crowds roaring them on both for this match and the encounter at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, June 27, but it has not been the easiest of build-ups for Paul Green’s side to injury and illness afflicting the squad.
Back-up hooker Reed Mahoney was injured in the last round of the NRL on duty for club side Newcastle Knights, which saw Ben Hunt called into the extended squad and means Harry Grant – who himself had concerns over a hamstring injury – could play a full 80 minutes for the first time since September. Meanwhile, Dane Gagai missed two training sessions due to illness.
“Everyone wants to have the perfect camp but sometimes that is hard to do,” Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans said. “Gags was a bit crook, but we are all good. Reed would love to come back in, but he can’t.
State of Origin 2021 fixtures
“These are little things along the way, but as for our preparation it has been really strong.
“Ben is coming in as cover. The squad is pretty settled as to how we are going to play this coming Wednesday.”
The hosts also have Josh Papalii suspended, leaving them with a pack that has an average age of just under 24 years old compared to the average age of nearly 26 for New South Wales’ forwards and many players having only a handful of appearances in the series to their name.
But back row Jai Arrow – one of the more experienced Maroons packmen at 25 and with seven Origin games under his belt – is excited to see new players breaking through.
Ready 👊 #QLDER https://t.co/KqtadgzoRF
“It’s definitely our time I suppose and it’s definitely a new era,” Arrow said. “I feel like I’m one of the old ones at the moment because there is obviously a lot of young boys that have come in.
“I suppose it is time for us to build our own era and hopefully string a few series wins together, but it all sort of starts this week.”
Will Blues backs light up Origin?
New South Wales head coach Brad Fittler lined up alongside some outstanding backs for club, state and country during his playing days, but it would not be difficult to imagine how much he would relish being in the same team as the current generation.
Wednesday’s Origin opener is set to see the Blues line up with captain James Tedesco at full-back, and a potentially scintillating three-quarter line of Brian To’o, Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr.
Fittler has opted to accommodate Mitchell – back in NSW colours for the first time since being dropped in 2019 – and Trbojevic in the centres despite them playing most of their club rugby in the No. 1 shirt, and the former’s South Sydney Rabbitohs team-mate Damien Cook expects fireworks.
“It is great to see Latrell back,” New South Wales hooker Cook said. “This is where he belongs. He is an Origin player.
“He is one of the best players in our game, so this is where he needs to be, and it is good to see him back in the jersey.
“With the likes of Latrell, Tedesco and Trbojevic, you just needed to find a spot to fit them all in and that is what Freddy (Fittler) has done.”
"Queensland hate us and we hate them – that’s how Origin is" – Payne Haas
There will be plenty of eyes on the Blues’ half-back partnership of debutant Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary as well, with the pair having become the heartbeat of the Penrith Panthers team in the NRL.
Blues fans will be hoping they can take that form into the Origin series and former NSW stand-off Fittler expects them to rise to the occasion.
“It definitely is a step up in level, but he [Luai] seems to have the courage when he plays for Penrith to play under pressure,” Fittler said.
“It’s one thing Nathan and Jarome do very well – when the pressure is on, they seem to get better. State of Origin is all about that.”
You READY!? 😤#Origin pic.twitter.com/7MIIblzvT8
Many believe last year we witnessed the biggest upset in Origin history – I certainly was shocked with the final result. New South Wales went in as overwhelming favourites, but Queensland won the first and third games to clinch the series. This year the Blues will be desperate to right their wrongs.
Once again, they start favourites, but as proven over the years that matters very little in Origin. Due to Covid-19, the opener will be played in Townsville – perhaps the only time it will ever be played in Northern Queensland – so I have no doubt Maroons fans up there will make the most of it and be out in full force supporting their state.
As someone who grew up in NSW, I’m clearly a proud Blues supporter and some of my fondest memories as a child and teenager revolve around the State of Origin. As the saying goes, it brings strangers together and can rip families apart. It showcases the game at its best and that first hit is something to behold.
Origin brings strangers together and can rip families apart. It showcases the game at its best and that first hit is something to behold.
Do yourself a favour and tune in to Sky Sports Main Event and Arena on Wednesday at 10am.
– Sky Sports rugby league reporter and NRL expert Jenna Brooks
Queensland: Kalyn Ponga; Xavier Coates, Kurt Capewell, Dane Gagai, Valentine Holmes; Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans; Christian Welch, Harry Grant, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Felise Kaufusi, David Fifita, Jai Arrow.
Interchange: AJ Brimson, Jaydn Su’A, Moeaki Fotuaika, Joe Ofahengaue.
New South Wales: 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.
Source: Read Full Article