State of Origin for 2018 kicks off this Wednesday at the MCG in Melbourne, as the New South Wale Blues host the Queensland Maroons at 8:00 pm AEDT.
LAST TIME OUT
The 2017 State of Origin series took a complete swing between games one and three. A questionable Queensland team selected by Coach Kevin Waters got trounced in game one at Suncorp Stadium, with New South Wales triumphing 28-4. The Maroons lacked the intensity of their rivals, and a bruising forward pack for the Blues was the catalyst with Andrew Fifita having a standout performance.
This lead to a host of changes for the Maroons side in game two, where Coach Walters purely focused on form instead of experience. The likes of Jarrod Wallace and Billy Slater were called up, two me who were having strong NRL campaigns at the time. A 16-6 halftime lead in game two seemed enough at the time to give New South Wales a series win, if only they could maintain their momentum and composure. That wasn’t the case as Queensland did what they do best – pull out a tight win inside the final 10 minutes, powered by their experienced spine who created two tries for a narrow 18-16 win.
Game three all of a sudden looked Queensland’s for the taking. With a narrow game two win, and returning to home turf with a bit of confidence in their back pocket, claiming an 11th series in 12 years seemed more than likely. The Blues looked lost, they failed to turn up and a mistake free Queensland side punished them. A comfortable 22-6 victory, with Valentine Holmes scoring a hattrick sealed the deal and once again traumatized the hearts of New South Wales players and supporters.
The right move was made by New South Wales to unload Laurie Daly, but that means the pressure on Brad Fitler will mount if he is unable to grab a series win within two years of his tenure.
A range of debutants will take the field for the Blues, including Nathan Cleary in the halves and speedsters James Roberts and Josh Addo-Carr on the outside.
Billy Slater has officially been ruled out of game one with a hamstring injury, with reports saying Anthony Milford and Kalyn Ponga have been flown to Melbourne as cover. Ben Hunt will start for the first time in the number seven jumper, partnering Camron Munster for a new look halves combo.
There are plenty of talented players to choose from, but it is hard to look past the halfbacks who will be finding their feet in new roles for game one.
At the age of 20 Nathan Cleary has been named to start at halfback, alongside Panthers teammate James Maloney in the halves. Ever since being given a starting role at Penrith by Anthony Griffin in 2016, Cleary has dazzled in the competition with his tremendous playmaking abilities as well as is pinpoint goal kicking. It makes perfect sense to have a halves pairing who know each other well, and given the established class of James Maloney, it seemed only seemed fitting to have Cleary in the side as well.
Ben Hunt made his Queensland Origin debut last year in game three, but did so off the bench. With no Cronk or Thurston in the team this year, and in the best form of his career, Hunt sees himself steering the ship for game one. Hunt has, so far in 2018, arguably best the player of the season, and his arrival at the Dragons has sparked their great successes.
Blues Coach Brad Fitler said New South Wales being favourites means nothing, and his side has the tools to be special in the future if they can get a good result in game one.
Maroons Captain Greg Inglis said he is excited to see what the Queensland debutants can add to the side, and said they have prepared well and are ready for Wednesday’s clash.
Queensland has won three of the last four State of Origin games played in Melbourne. As well as that, the winner of game one since 2008 has gone on to win the series nine times out of 11.
Maroons: 1 TBC, 2 Valentine Holmes, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Greg Inglis (c), 5 Dane Gagai, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 Dylan Napa, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Jarrod Wallace, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Felise Kaufusi, 13 Josh McGuire, Interchange: 14 Michael Morgan, 15 Josh Papalii 16, Coen Hess, 17 Jai Arrow,
Blues: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Tom Trbojevic, 3 Latrell Mitchell, 4 James Roberts, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 James Maloney, 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 David Klemmer, 9 Damien Cook, 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Boyd Cordner (c), 12 Tyson Frizell, 13 Jack De Belin, Interchange: 14 Paul Vaughan, 15 Jake Trbojevic, 16 Angus Crichton, 17 Tyrone Peachey, Reserves: 18 Tariq Sims, 19 Nick Cotric
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Wednesday 6th June
Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne
Kickoff: 8:00 pm (AEDT)
Match Officials: Gerard Sutton, Ashley Klein (assistant)
WHO WILL WIN?
The Maroons have lost a lot of experience with no Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, and Billy Slater. As much as Munster and McCullough are solid players in the Queensland spine, their inexperience playing with Hunt and whoever is selected at fullback could prove costly. The Blues on the other hand should have won last year, but their mentality and drive let them down – that will change. Coach Fitler has made it clear he wants to change the culture within the team, and exciting young selections with a revamped backline should give them the boost they need. Fitler’s first game in charge will be one to remember. Blues by 8.