The highly anticipated 2016 State of Origin series kicks off on Wednesday the 1st of June at ANZ Stadium, Sydney, with NSW hoping that two home games out of the three match series will help them claim a much needed victory over their highly favoured Queensland counterparts.
LAST TIME MET
The last time the two teams clashed at ANZ Stadium was game one last year, in which the Queensland side prevailed to claim a one point victory in enemy territory.
The Blues responded ominously when they crushed the Maroons 26-18 at the MCG in game two of the 2015 series. In that game, the Blues bashed the Maroons forwards, with many commentators and fans seeing the Queensland dynasty falling, citing their players age as the reason behind the loss.
It didn’t last for NSW, however, as they were outgunned in every facet of the game, as the “aging” cockroaches demolished them 52-6 to six in Queensland to keep their reign as the supreme football state intact.
Matt Moylan vs Queensland kick-chase
Matt Moylan is a star at NRL level, but will be put to the ultimate test as he is thrown in to the Origin arena in his favoured fullback position. While he has electric speed and all the playmaking skills required, the big test will be whether his small stature can survive the rigor of the toughest Rugby League contest. Expect Queensland to send plenty of high balls his way and attempt to throw him off his game with huge kick chase efforts.
Moylan has some magical footwork, however, and if the Maroons chase offers any fractures in its defensive line, he does have the ability to make them pay, and that will only grow his confidence.
David Klemmer vs Corey Parker
A lot was made of the battle between Parker and Klemmer in game 2 last year, when Parker told Klemmer to show some respect, with which Klemmer replied not so wittingly, telling the maroons forward not so politely to shut up. In that game, Klemmer helped lead the Blues to victory, dominating the middle of the field to allow the NSW side to stay on the front foot.
In the return bout, Parker shone, while Klemmer was nearly silenced, with the Queensland veteran ultimately named man of the series to silence his critics as well.
Onwards to round three where an in form Parker will face an out of sorts Klemmer, who was named on the bench for NSW. Parker looks set to claim the points, unless the Bulldog forward can find that inner fire once again with strong but controlled aggression.
Another key area will be in the centre battle, with the home side fielding Josh Dugan and Michael Jennings up against Greg Inglis and Maroon debutante Justin O’ Neill. Inglis looks to be the key to the battle, particularly if he is facing off against Dugan, who is still relatively new to the centre position, and still looks more comfortable at fullback. Inglis hasn’t been at his best in 2016, however turned it up a gear in South Sydney’s win in round 11, and always saves his best for Queensland. Dugan will have to make sure he puts plenty of defensive pressure on Inglis as he is catching the ball, because if Inglis is allowed the time to catch and palm, Dugan may find himself clutching at air.
The NSW side picked looks to be an attacking outfit, and Jennings is a major player in making sure they post the point necessary to beat their rivals. Coming up against a nervous rookie in O’Neill, expect the Parramatta speedster to get plenty of early opportunities as the Blues look to exploit his experience.
Moving to the playmakers, and the Queensland pairing of Cooper Cronk and Jonathon Thurston, who have a wealth of Origin experience between them, will be facing off against the new NSW halves paring of James Maloney and Adam Reynolds.
Not much needs to be said about the record of the Maroons with Cronk and Thurston playing side by side. It seems that whenever one has been missing, Queensland have struggled, highlighted by their series loss in 2014 when Cronk was absent with a broken arm.
For the NSW side, the main consistency in the halves has been the constant changing of personnel, so they will be hoping these two can strike a combination. It looks to be a positive match up, with Reynolds having a precise kicking game, and Maloney a great runner of the football as well as being solid with the boot, which should allow some new attacking dimensions for the Blues. The kicking game has let NSW down in the past, as they constantly have found the Maroons backs on the full allowing a positive star to the set. If NSW can kick to space, they will go a long way towards getting themselves on the front foot, and Reynolds should be the man to do so.
The Blues have a number of new faces and new positions, making it hard to know what will be produced on the day. If they can control the nerves and the rookies can instead harness this to bring excitement, they can throw the Queenslanders off their game.
But this Queensland side hasn’t won 9 of the last 10 by chance. They are champions across the park, and once again can field a side with very few changes, giving them a wealth of experience.
The first twenty minutes will be key to the rest of the match, if NSW can hold on and even bag an early try, they will find the nerves settle and the home crowd will cheer them home. But if the Maroons get the front foot early, they could run away with it before the half time whistle.
The home ground advantage tips the scales towards NSW, although the last clash at the venue went the way of the visitors courtesy of a Cooper Cronk field goal. While the Queenslanders have won a couple of clashes at the venue in recent times, history in Sydney still favours the Blues. It will be an upset, but the Blues will know if they are to win the series they need to do it at home, and not face the prospect of having to win in Queensland.
Blues by 4
NSW: Greg Bird, Boyd Cordner, Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, Andrew Fifita, Paul Gallen, Josh Jackson, Michael Jennings, David Klemmer, James Maloney, Josh Mansour, Matt Moylan, Adam Reynolds, James Tamou, Dylan Walker, Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah (Positions officially yet TBA)
Queensland: 1. Darius Boyd, 2. Corey Oates, 3. Greg Inglis, 4. Justin O’Neill, 5. Dane Gagai, 6. Johnathan Thurston, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Matt Scott, 9. Cameron Smith, 10. Nate Myles, 11. Matt Gillett, 12. Sam Thaiday, 13. Corey Parker
Interchange: 14. Michael Morgan, 15. Josh McGuire, 16. Aidan Guerra, 17. Josh Papalii