One of the most anticipated State of Origin series in years begins on Wednesday night with Brad Fittler’s NSW Blues set to face an almighty challenge from Queensland in their bid to retain the Shield.
The Blues have won three of the last four series, but their dominance looks threatened by a talented Maroons team led by state legend Billy Slater in his first series as coach.
It’s expected to be a blustery and wild affair in front of a confirmed sold-out crowd at Sydney’s Accor Stadium for Game 1. Follow the breaking news throughout the day and all the action tonight here. -below.
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MATCH 1 BURNING QUESTIONS: QLD ‘elephant in the room’ Blues will attack; Can Fittler overcome the stellar void?
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Ultimate Guide and Start Time
STAGG’S COBBO OVERVIEW
Blues center Kotoni Staggs gave Brad Fittler’s team the scoop on Broncos teammate Selwyn Cobbo.
The 20-year-old Maroons winger is set to step onto the pitch in one of the most disheartening debuts in Stage of Origin history.
Fittler said the Blues would “absolutely” test the young gun’s aerial abilities, with playmakers Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai to target him with their elite kicking game.
Meanwhile, Staggs suggested that he described Cobbo’s weaknesses to his Origin teammates.
“Everyone has a weakness in their game, and it’s up to the opponent to find it,” Staggs told SMH.
“I played alongside him for most of the year. There are a few things that stand out for me that I’ve told my friends here so whatever happens, happens.
Despite hoping to exploit the young winger in certain aspects of his game, Fittler still marveled at his talents.
“It’s a shame he’s playing for the other team because he’s so good to watch. He’s wild, he’s strong, fast and energetic. It will be great to see him under pressure,” Fittler said.
LEGEND’S PRAISE FOR ‘TOUGH LITTER BUGGER’ COTTER
Queensland Maroons legend and assistant Cameron Smith advises emerging cult hero Reuben Cotter to make a big impact in his first appearance in Origin.
Asked on Wednesday to identify a player who impressed him at camp, Smith picked the tireless 23-year-old forward from North Queensland who has worked his way into the squad with a string of standout performances this season.
“I was really impressed with Reuben Cotter. I really, I really. You probably thought I was going to say Selwyn Cobbo,” Smith said.
“He’s a short guy…but he’s a little tough guy and he reminds me of a guy I played with in those colors, Dallas Johnson.
“I’m really excited about what he’s going to bring to this football side tonight and I’m sure he’s going to have a big one.”
WIGHTON LOCKED TO START AS QLD REVEALS GRANT ROLE
NSW Blues assistant Greg Alexander has confirmed Jack Wighton will start in centers as named amid continued speculation Brad Fittler could make a late switch.
Canberra star Wighton’s surprise selection ahead of Penrith’s Stephen Crichton has sparked speculation over who will really start, but Alexander said only a Covid problem would force the Blues into late changes.
Alexander stressed that the selection was to take advantage of Crichton’s versatility.
“Stephen can really play full back, in the middle, anywhere on the pitch, he’s so talented,” Alexander said on Wednesday.
“Stephen is on the bench to cover the loss of any outside backs and depending on how the game goes we can throw him anywhere.
“He wasn’t benched because we didn’t think he was ready to start. He was benched for these reasons.
Meanwhile, Smith gave a worrying update on how the Maroons will use X-factor star Harry Grant, suggesting the Storm No.9 will see big minutes, including playing alongside frontman Dally M, Ben Hunt, who will start the match at hooker.
“Billy has a plan around when Harry comes onto the pitch but I think he’s going to see a lot of playing time, there’s no doubt about that,” Smith said.
“We think it’s a very good position to have someone like that on the bench.
“…Ben Hunt has been training all week at the No.9 position, that’s where he’ll start the game. He’ll take the sting out of the game for Harry and hopefully we’ll get players tired of NSW there where we can tell Harry to come out and rule the football.
“…There will be a part of the match where both players are on the pitch, there is no doubt about that. I think it’s hard to leave Ben Hunt off the pitch in the form he’s in.
‘WE NEED TO GET DOMOBILITY FROM ORIGIN
While there’s a lot of excitement about the 2022 series opening, there are also growing concerns about Origin’s relatively slow rise to prominence in recent years.
It’s shaping up to be an intriguing series due to the talent on both sides, but there was little, if any, shooting between the sides in the build-up to Game 1 – a stark contrast to the ‘wild days’ when the hatred across the border seemed genuine.
NRL 360 Co-host Paul Kent said a ‘gradual decline’ in interest in the Origin product was becoming a serious issue – one the NRL has privately acknowledged – and called on players to take responsibility for selling the game. ‘opportunity.
“We have to take the docility out of Origin. The players are so disciplined and so desperate not to motivate the opposition who had the most boring preparations,” Kent said on NRL 360.
“It’s time for the game to come out and start selling again.
“…Rugby league needs to stop assuming people will always be around and Origin will always be that game. It was built on the backs of those Queensland wildcats who came with a pure hatred for NSW where whatever they said about NSW, they didn’t care if the Blues cared or not.
“They went after NSW and they set up the whole Origin mystique on the back of that.
“Now you feel like if they met in a restaurant, they would all walk around and say hello, sit down and share a meal together.”
Kent cited the example of Australian boxer George Kambosos drawing a crowd of more than 40,000 to Marvel Stadium on Sunday after “lighting a fuse” with his commentary and antics in the build-up to the world lightweight title fight with Devin Haney.
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Kent said Origin needed to “go back to the wild days when it was actually about releasing something interesting, rather than talking about process and playing good footy.
“Even before the game nobody says anything,” he said. “The last quote everyone remembers was when Paul Gallen was paid $20,000 by the NRL to host it, so he came out and called them two heads who just set Queensland on fire. The whole state just exploded.
“…The game needs to start educating these players, they’re killing the goose. They’re putting us all to sleep through it all.
“The preparation and coverage has never been more intense than it is now and the players in response are backing off. They have to understand their role in this, they’re making $15,000 a game, they’re now arguing it should go up to $30,000 a game, but what are they doing to help sell the game?”
An example of the cautious nature of pre-game banter was highlighted on The last pagewho discussed Slater’s cautious response when asked this week “why do you think you’re going to win?”
“I didn’t say I think I’m going to win,” Slater replied. “…I’d like to think we’re going to play well.”
Former Blues star Bryan Fletcher says teams may have been too preoccupied with not giving their opponents additional information, but Mail Mail Journalist Robert Craddock said it was clear Origin was missing “a bit of spice”.
“I mean, run it, it’s Origin,” he said in reaction to Slater’s response.
“That was half the fun. The rivalry of grenades being thrown across the border. It’s the only time we can leave the top button open.