What’s changed in Origin over the last 40 years? Not much it seems. The so-called experts have written Queensland off. Sound familiar?
Queensland will not be good enough to beat NSW in the first State of Origin game in Adelaide on Wednesday night according to the experts. Their players aren’t as big or as strong or as fast or as talented as the Blues. It’s been that was for a majority of the 40 years before every series. I’ve heard it all before many times and while sometimes it has proved to be correct, many times it hasn’t.
It’s not always the best team that wins Origin, it’s usually the team that plays the best that wins like the 1995 series when Queensland was widely written off yet Queensland took the series 3-0 with a side coached by rookie Paul Vautin which rose to the occasion. This is another year where NSW is considered to be far superior to Queensland on paper and it well may work out that way, even a series clean sweep. But if history tells us anything, it is that the Maroons are at their most dangerous when they are written off.
Make no mistake, with Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga instilling the Maroon mantra into all the young players, Queensland will not lie down, no matter how tough it gets. NSW have won the past two series but it took them until the dying minutes of the third and deciding game for James Tedesco to clinch victory for them. This year’s series will be played over three weeks so injuries and luck will play a part.
Queensland is $3.10 outsides to win game one with NSW quoted at $1.37 which suggests bookmakers think the Blues are morals or certainties to go one-up in the best-of-three series. Queensland fans can get 7.5 points start which will appeal to them given they have a strong forward pack led by Josh Papalii and more than capable of holding their own. It’s worth noting Queensland lead the Origin head to head battles 21-15. They also top every one of the top 10 key Origin statistics which is quite amazing.
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State of Origin Game 1 – Wednesday, November 4
NSW Blues v QLD Maroons
Adelaide Oval, Adelaide | 8:10 PM (AEST)
The 2020 Origin series which will be played over the next three weeks and at the end of the season instead of mid-season because of Covid 19 making it a difficult one to analyse for so many reasons. There’s no doubt NSW appear, at least on paper, to have a stronger squad than Queensland as they shoot for a hat-trick of series’ wins.
But as they learned back in 1995 when they had a far superior side but suffered an embarrassing 3-0, Origin series clean sweep — these games are won on the battlefield, not on paper.
The Blue’s backline looks more potent than Queensland’s. James Tedesco, Daniel Toupu, Clint Gutherson, the Dally M Player of the Year Jack Wighton, Josh Addo-Carr, Luke Keary and Nathan Cleary easily outscored their opposition during the premiership season.
They boast a stack more experience than the Maroons who will likely blood a new batch of rookies following the recent retirements of a host of champion players including Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Jonathan Thurston and Cameron Smith. Coach Kevin Walters has vacated the job to take on his first NRL coaching assignment at the Brisbane Broncos but his replacement, Wayne Bennett is pretty handy.
Bennett’s assistant, Mal Meninga, also has a lot of Origin experience as a player and coach, winning eight series in a row between 2006-14. It’s generally accepted that forwards win Origin and is that is the case then the game may be closer than all the experts are predicting because Queensland’s pack, led by Josh Papalii, will not yield easily. Four of Queensland pack, Papalii, Christian Welch, Cohen Hess and Felise Kafusi have all played in the Origin furnace while debutants Jake Friend and Tino Faasaumaleaui have both won premierships. The Blues six also has two players, Daniel Saifiti and Junior Paulo who will make their Origin debuts so it will come down to which pack gains some superiority to allow their halves to organise their outside backs. Nathan Cleary and Wighton are a formidable halves combination but so too are Queensland’s Daley Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster.
All four are potential game-breakers, each with their own set of skills. NSW fullback James Tedesco scored the try that clinched back-to-back series’ for the Blues last year in the closing minutes of the series decider and there is no doubt he is a big dangerman again, although he has been battling a leg injury in the lead up to the opening game in Adelaide. Queensland will launch another fullback in the shape of AJ Brimson who has staged an amazing recovery from a serious back injury which threatened to end his career to take over the prized No.1 jumper with a few players out injured.
Brimson has been brilliant for the Gold Coast Titans and he is the type of player who could produce a long-range try when the opposition is feeling fatigued. Maroons winger Xavier Coates was in doubt early in the week with a shoulder injury after a heavy fall during training on Sunday. However, scans have cleared the high-leaping youngster of any structural damage and he is expected to be one at least eight rookies in Bennett’s 17-man squad.
With so many newcomers, the Maroons will probably play a tight, controlled game, relying on defence to neutralise the Blues’ attack. It won’t be easy because NSW has so many dangerous weapons in the backs especially on the flanks with James Tupou and Josh Addo-Carr. The withdrawal of Melbourne speedster Ryan Papenhuyzen will make things a little easier but with a back-three of Tedesco, Tupou and Addo-Carr NSW have three quality players to bring them out of their own 20-metre zone.
This game will be the first Origin to be played in Adelaide and you get the feeling Queensland will have a large slice of support from fans who because of AFL rivalries do not like NSW or Victoria. How much that support is worth who knows, but it will help. Bookmaker’s markets suggest NSW are close to “good things” but close followers of Origin know these games are never easy to win, especially the first game when both sides are often cautious with a defensive mindset.
Being underdogs though plays right into Bennett’s hands. A Queensland side with its back to the wall, and one which is written-off before a tackle has been made, is a dangerous one. NSW suffered through eight straight series losses but now they are on a roll with two of their own and looking to inflict even more pain with a hat-trick on Wednesday night. They won’t want to take Queensland lightly however with the Maroons renowned for their grit and fight when games are on the line.
Like I said, there are a few links to 1995 when Super League weakened the Maroons to a point where most felt they would be flogged 3-0 in that series. But they won the first game 2-0 and went on to clean sweep a NSW side that on paper was 20 points or more better. I’m sure the Blues won’t let that happen again, will they?