And so we come to Suncorp Stadium to kick the State of Origin series off in 2017, Queensland sans some of their legends in Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston, NSW starting out with a new captain in Boyd Cordner and another new halves pairing. The Blues are debuting a host of players including the often-touted but yet to be selected Nathan Peats, while on the other side of the Tweed Queensland debut Dylan Napa and Anthony Milford.
LAST TIME OUT
Queensland triumphed in the 2016 series 2-1, in what was Paul Gallen and Corey Parker’s final run around in the Origin arena. Queensland wrapped it all up in two and the only NSW win was a consolation win, but it was significant as it symbolised a passing of the guard with James Tedesco, Tyson Frizell and Wade Graham all having an immediate impact on the team. Dead weight from the old guard like Michael Jennings and Greg Bird – who were getting selected on name rather than merit – are out of the team and replaced by young and firing new look guns looking to reverse history. Jarryd Hayne and Mitchell Pearce too have come back from the Origin dead – though it should be Cody Walker with Maloney there in the halves – to try and resurrect the Blues. Captain Cordner can and should lead from the front.
Queensland’s side from that series has changed too, especially in the light of injury to Johnathan Thurston that forces the hand of Kevin Walters to pick Anthony Milford. While Milford could very well be a speed bump in defense, Walters hopes that the young Bronco can add a big play or two to the Origin arena. Nominal replacement for Corey Parker, Dylan Napa, should look to bring his big hits to the big stage. Some argue that they are light in the forward pack with Nate Myles as well as Aidan Guerra being selected on the back of their past Maroons performances rather than club form, but pick and stick does the trick for the Maroons, historically.
Rugby league has no bigger defensive stage than State of Origin, games often having single digit scorelines with a penalty goal in it. This is why it was such a surprise Queensland opted for the defensively suspect Milford over a more traditional half like Daly Cherry-Evans, who has the fabled Origin experience. The winner on the defensive side of the ball should win it all, and you have big hitters like Josh Jackson and Matt Gillett lining up for both sides on Wednesday night. The Blues have struggled at Suncorp on defense and they’ll hope that doesn’t continue.
Darius Boyd and James Tedesco have both had very hot seasons- Boyd enough to take the spot fulltime from Billy Slater, Tedesco doing enough to keep it even with the return of Jarryd Hayne, a winner in the series in 2014. They are some very different players but both are so integral to their teams success – the Blues should have their eyes on Tedesco to get their sets rolling forward and maybe break the maroon line once or twice – invaluable in the Origin setup. Boyd chimes in as a third playmaker and is the greatest finisher of the slick backline move in rugby league right now – so look for him to slide in on the edges to put a try on for Dane Gagai or Corey Oates.
Game one at Suncorp is likely the hardest assignment in rugby league and there’s enough gumption in the Queensland side for that trend to continue this year. The Blues are building and no doubt will be able to challenge up at Suncorp next year when the current crop have more experience, but there’s too much to say no to in Queensland. The Maroons by eight.
New South Wales Blues: 1.James Tedesco, 2. Blake Ferguson, 3. Josh Dugan, 4. Jarryd Hayne, 5. Brett Morris, 6. James Maloney, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. Aaron Woods, 9. Nathan Peats, 10. Andrew Fifita, 11. Josh Jackson, 12. Boyd Cordner (c), 13. Tyson Frizell
Interchange: 14. David Klemmer, 15. Wade Graham, 16. Jake Trbojevic, 17. Jack Bird
18th man: Matt Moylan 19th man: Jordan McLean 20th man: Jack De Belin
Queensland Maroons: 1. Darius Boyd, 2. Corey Oates, 3. Will Chambers, 4. Justin O’Neill, 5. Dane Gagai, 6.Anthony Milford, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Dylan Napa, 9. Cameron Smith (C), 10. Nate Myles, 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Matt Gillett, 13. Josh McGuire. Interchange: 14. Michael Morgan, 15. Sam Thaiday, 16. Aidan Guerra, 17. Jacob Lillyman. 18th man: Jarrod Wallace.