State of Origin Game 1
New South Wales Vs Queensland
6th June 2018, 8pm
Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

Well it’s that time of year where every Man, Woman and Child divides their friendships, household and work place into their state of origin alligenices. In arguably the most anticipated series in 5 plus years with a new era of players for both teams, this series is screaming as one for the ages.

New South Wales Blues (NSW)

Under new coach B. Fittler he has taken a broom to the team list and is on a mission to change the “culture” of the NSW jumper. Fittler has named 11 debutants for game 1, resisting the temptation and not picking “polarising players” and going for an attacking mindset rather than a defensive team that has failed for NSW in the recent decade. Coach Fittler does have an Alternate but Brilliant football mind and is leaving no stone unturned, introducing a few “different” policies – No phones and Yoga to name a few, to really get his players to bond and drive home his Family first atmosphere.

The NSW camp motto “What ever it takes” again is a Fittler take on the required mind set that is needed in the Origin arena. Also unheard of is the media allowed Full access to an origin team the day before kick off. But once again Fittler is changing the mindset and wants his player to completely buy into his methods, its the key message that coach Fittler needs his players to buy in. Let’s not forget 11, yes 11 debutants, are fielding the side for NSW, how they turn up is almost unknown and possibly the hardest task for coach Fittler and his staff. J. Maloney is the most capped player on 9 origin games, yes 9 is the most experienced player for this team, Wow.

What will work for NSW will be the club connections in key positions in the halves and forward pack. No. 6 and 7. Nathan Cleary and James Maloney are carving up week in week out in the NRL, highlighted by the demolition of St George Illawarra Dragons, where they we in complete control and was an excellent preview for coach Fittler. N. Cleary could be the answer for NSW and one gets the feeling that he could be the long term Half back for NSW as long as he stays fit. His combination with J. Maloney seems to be effortless and will be one of the key areas that Qld will target and apply a lot of pressure on them at all times.
J. Maloney, what can be said about him? Every club he goes to instantly becomes a success. He almost won a premiership with the New Zealand Warriors, took the Roosters and Sharks to premierships and Penrith this year also look likely to go deep into September. He does have errors and miss tackles in his game, but these are outweighed by his ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck and make big plays. His footy mind and ability to read what’s in front of him is second to none and will be a highlight for us in the upcoming game. It’s his time to shine and we hope for NSW fans he can deliver in spades, with his goal kicking an additional aspect that may be the deciding factor in what we anticipate as a close game / series.

For us NSW win but only just. Write off Qld at your own peril, it seems that a lot of people have forgotten what has happened in the last decade. For NSW to win, it will need to start in the middle. Arguably for years, NSW has had a better forward pack, but lacked the halves to “steal the moments” off Qld, this year is no exception for the forward pack and as we mentioned the new halves pairing is all class. Coach Fittler has gone with players picked on form rather than “he was there last year”, NSW has nine players from the current top 4 teams and 13 from the top 8 with just one from the bottom 8 (D. Klemmer, but he is 2nd in post contact meters for the NRL 877m behind J. Taumalolo and 4th in All Runs. He’s in great form).
Queensland Maroons (QLD)

In a changing of the guard for Qld, with the “Immortal Spine” (C. Smith, C. Cronk, J. Thurston and B. Slater) either retired from representative footy or injured, it now lies in the hands of the next generation of players to stand tall. The biggest shock for the Qld was the recent announcement of Qld legend C. Smith a few weeks ago. C. Smith has been controlling the game for Qld for 42 matches over 14 years with 11 series wins to his name. It was anticipated that he would play on for at least this year after both C. Cronk and J. Thurston retired last year “to ease transition” for the Qld team, however like all champion players he has left on his own terms. An incredible career for Qld, but now a massive void is there which will be extremely hard to fill, but not impossible with the depth of Qld players coming through. On Monday more shock waves were sent through the Qld preparation with B. Slater being declared unfit due to a tight hamstring, forcing Coach Walters to send for reinforcements in Anthony Milford and Kaylan Ponga to be flown to Melbourne As Soon As Possible (ASAP). With Qld playing classic “Ducks and Drakes” on their final team list, it’s impossible for their fans to know who will be where until final team lists are released 60 minutes before kick off.

Adding to the new look Qld team, they will sport a new halves pairing, that since game 3, 2004 (39 games) has had either C. Cronk or J. Thurston in one of those key positions making the massive decisions and owning the “moments” in origin. But Qld have a production line that is second to none, with experience players that have been waiting in the wings for their chance in the big arena. In fact now with B. Slater out injured, it will be the first time since game 3, 2003 that a Qld team will not have one of the “Immortal spine” on the field. Qld have stuck to their “loyal program” (with 4 players from the top 4 clubs, 9 players from the top 8 teams and 4 from the bottom 4 clubs) picking players that have turned up for Qld when required, highlighted by picking Josh McGuire, who has not played a single minute of NRL foot ball since round 8. A massive task by any standards to take on the NSW pack, but he will need to stand tall and work harder than ever. He does have help however, but he will be expected to play long minutes even with the lack of game time.
C. Smith replacement in Andrew McCulloch is no slouch, already over 200 NRL games (236) including 13 final series games and seems the logical replacement. He is a work horse in the middle and has played with Ben Hunt in the past games. His passing is also without compromise, maybe our only criticism of him, will be his ability to shift momentum in the middle third if given half a chance. Qld fans and lovers of the game aren’t expecting A. McCulloch to be able to replicate the C. Smith type of game, but we are very keen to see how he goes and how Qld will allow him to play.

It is anticipated Qld new spine will look like: No.1 M. Morgan, No.6 C. Munster, No.7 B. Hunt and No.9 A. McCulloch with replacement A. Milford to take the Utility position left vacant by Morgan’s switch to full back to cover Slaters injury. However, as we have seen, Qld don’t mind leaving everyone in suspense, so it is still possible that K. Ponga could steal the utility spot off Milford, but for this lets assume that the above spine is what they roll out with in game 1. It’s not an inexperienced spine, with Morgan and Munster premiership winners, Hunt and McCulloch both played in grand finals and many finals series. Morgan, Munster and Hunt have all represented Australia as well, so they aren’t “Noobs/Rookies” as the NSW media is making out. Sure their combinations won’t be as crisp as previous Qld matches, but they still have a great chance to show us what they can do and how they will lead Qld to many more series win.

For us Qld will be competitive, but just fall short. Even after Qld dominance over the last 13 years, Qld are massive “Under Dogs” and they wouldn’t have it any other way, with Head to Head (Money Line) betting now blowing out to a ridiculous $3.10 and +/- 7.5 handicap (on Bet365 at time 11:37pm, 05/06/18). How these odds are given seems unbelievable considering the lack of experience in the NSW camp and the game is on a neutral ground in Melbourne. Qld will need their forwards to stay competitive in the middle, if they can do this, their back line could really expose the defensive issues anticipated in the edges of NSW.

Key Match Ups for Us:

Hooker (No.9)

A lot of interest will come around both no.9’s and the eventual prize post origin is National honours with the Australia test jumper up for grabs.
Both hookers have distinctive styles to be honest, with NSW Hooker, D. Cook, being explosive from dummy half. He is devastating in the middle of the park if there are no markers and or the “A Defenders” are lazy with shutting the “gate” he could continue his impressive form so far this year in the NRL. He has scored many a try this year with his acceleration over the initial 5m and elusive foot work developed from his younger days as a beach sprinter. With all his speed, he doesn’t hide from the tough work in the middle either, he leads the NRL in tackles made and really is developing into an all round performer. No doubt at all on Qld Tip sheets, it will be in bold – Make it to marker and A Defenders be set for his acceleration. How Qld also can reduce/negate his effectiveness will be the wrestle and stopping NSW getting a quick play the ball by “finding their front”. It is easy to say this, but if Qld don’t win the ruck, watch out for D. Cook to really cause havoc in the middle.
McCulloch is in contrast a more traditional hooker, delivering pin point passing rather than diving from dummy half and has a nice kicking boot when required. NSW tip sheet will read along the lines for McCulloch – Do not over chase him and close his space to stop his kicking ability. McCulloch is crafty, with Qld really only having one half that can kick, in Hunt (if pressured expect Morgan to be deep if needed to take the kick), McCulloch at times will need to exercise his boot to help Hunt and he can do this well. NSW will need to stay close to McCulloch, if he is allowed time and space he has the ability to dissect your defensive structures. Expect the NSW markers to shadow him to limit his impact, with one marker as a shadow with the other watching for an inside pass.

For us, D. Cook wins this battle, just with his ability to turn an average set into a quick 15-20m gain through his speed. He doesn’t have the added pressure of kicking as both halves for NSW are exceptional in this department.

Goal Kicking – J. Maloney vs V. Holmes

Something that Qld has been blessed with, was the ability to “go up in 6 point blocks” or the “Clutch” goal kicking of J. Thurston and C. Smith under the weight of their state.

However this year it swings massively in favour of NSW, with J. Maloney kicking at an overall career percentage of 81 (751/927 from 2009-2018). Last year he was hitting goals at 87.65% (71/81), this year he is currently kicking at 86.27% (44/51). His halves partner in N. Cleary is considered a rookie, however in the goal kicking department is slotting them at will also. A career average of 86.67% (156/180 from 2016-2018), last year Cleary missed only 10 shots at goal, hitting 92/102 at a staggering 90.20%. This year he is sitting on 91.67% with 11/12 (as J. Maloney is kicking for their club, Penrith Panthers) after missing a large chunk of footy as he has just recovered from a knee injury.

Qld are relying on V. Holmes to step up and take the conversions in this game. However it is a massive pressure cooker Origin and his career record isn’t pretty, with an overall kicking percentage of 71.88 over the years 2014-2018, attempting 32 shots at goals with 23 being converted. Last year he converted 10/12 at 83.33% and this year he has not been asked to kick at club level (with C. Townsend the first choice kicker for the Cronulla Sharks) so his first penalty/try conversion in this game will be his first all year. This is a massive task and realistically as we have seen in the last 13 years, games are won and loss by the states ability to mount score board pressure and land the conversions.

For us, NSW wins this hands down. It was a passive thought in all the selection processes as we have been accustomed to great goal kickers coming through the ranks. Qld are really deficient in this area, if they score more tries than NSW but fail to land the conversions, NSW will have something they haven’t had in a decade, “Hope” that they can run Qld down. For Qld sake, if/when they score tries they will need to be close to the posts to help Holmes gain confidence, if not and it comes down to a shoot out, NSW are light years ahead.

The Centre Position

Wow, where do we start, we have two NSW centres that are debutants L. Mitchell and J. Roberts Vs the Qld Great and captain in Greg Inglis and Qld’s Ferrari in W. Chambers.

NSW has made no secret in what type of game plan they are running and its Speed and lots of it. But like with anything that is fast, it has it’s draw backs and for Mitchell and Roberts it’s their ability to read defences. NSW have conceded that they won’t be able to defend to a series win (evident in the last decade how that mind set has worked) rather they want to go all out attack. It is a bold strategy, but Coach Fittler is a Bold man.

L. Mitchell has been ear marked as a potential super star since his arrival into the NRL, his ability to explode through players and run the tough lines is the reason why coach Fittler has picked him. He can score from 80m out or lay on the finishing pass for his support players after he makes the initial line break. However he can go missing in games, with his mindset still developing into an 80 minute super star. We will be worried to see how he goes in reading the structures Qld will be throwing at him, with a lot of variations expected, this also applies to his opposite centre in J. Roberts.
J. Roberts, like L. Mitchell, has speed to burn and we have seen his speed already this year. He adds another attacking point for NSW by his ability to score from anywhere on the field, but unfortunately like Mitchell, he can go missing and has troubles with defensive reads. Add in Roberts has been managing a Ham String injury all year, its a massive risk by the NSW coaching staff to be playing him (remembering Slater was ruled out with a similar injury on Monday), they do have cover on the bench with the sensational T. Peachey, but an injury in Origin can almost ruin your team. It would throw out the rotation plans and when T. Peachey was to be played, however that’s just speculation as we hope Roberts gets through ok. It’s a mouth watering prospect to see this two young players run out, let’s hope we at least see one of these men get some space and show us their speed (If your a NSW fan).

However these debutants come up against arguably the greatest centre of all time in Greg Inglis and a magnificent centre partner in W. Chambers.

What a master stroke by Coach Walters giving G. Inglis the captain band adding to his arsenal of power and strength. G. Inglis, described as the “Rolls Royce” of the NRL and it’s hard to argue with this super star of the game. He has been in NSW nightmares over the last years by demolishing anyone in his path and his ability to read the game as it develops. He did miss last years series with an injury, but his form is right where Qld needs him to be. We are expecting him to rise to another level especially now up against the debutants of NSW, by being extremely busy and possibly setting up his winger for a try or two.
On the other side of the park its another gun centre in W. Chambers, possessing a great ability to shut down plays before they unfold and using his speed to close time and space to help his inside man if needed. He has leant his craft in the Melbourne Storm system and you can tell, with limited errors in his game and great confidence in his vast array of abilities, he can make anyone look silly with or with out the ball. He is highly rated for his defensive efforts and he does not shy away from the tough runs to give his forwards a break with quality runs as the norm.

For us, QLD are the dominate winners in this position. NSW will be relying on more diamonds plays than rocks with their centres, we aren’t sold on Roberts, especially with the ham string injury cloud. We also worry for NSW fans if their centres drift out of the game and before they know it, 30 minutes are gone and they haven’t touched the ball. G. Inglis was always going to “be up for it” but now he is captain, we hold grave concerns for NSW and their edge defences potential inability to stop the set moves/structures that will be coming their way.
A lot has been made about NSW speed, but like on the freeway, you can only go as fast as the speed limit. In the NRL, the speed limit is the penalty count, if the penalty count is high (which will favour Qld highly), this will really limit the fatigue factor that will be needed for NSW to win this game via their “Speed”.
Weather – The outlook looks amazing, with Melbourne turning it on for the NRL. A temperature range of 9*c-18*c and not a cloud in the sky. Expected temperature at game time is 11*c and dropping to 10*c around game finish, perfect conditions for footy.

For us in summary, we are extremely excited for this State of Origin series, more so as both teams are now show casing the next generation of players that can expect to be on this stage for the next 5 plus years. It is the most open a series has been in the last decade also adding to the excitement and unknown that is Origin footy.

We like the plus line of 7.5 for Qld on Bet365, how the line continues to blow out is beyond us, yes the “Immortal Spine” isn’t there, but the players replacing them aren’t “nuffys/spuds” and in previous years we have seen any plyer that puts on the Qld jumper grows 2ft and raises their game.

Unfortunately for Qld fans, not having a front line goal kicker is going to hurt their chances of winning. They may score more tries, but Goal kicking will let them down, if they aren’t straight forward conversions.

This is where we see the major difference in this game as we highlighted above, with it being a close match and not the blow out many people think and the result going to NSW.

Our bets:

Main Play – Main – Line – Queensland +7.5 $1.95 (Crownbet)

Margin pick – Margins – Six Point Margins (No Extra Time) NSW to win 1-6 $5 (William Hill)

Man Of Match – James Tedesco $10 (Ladbrokes)