Wednesday 6th June, Melbourne Cricket Ground, 11:00 GMT
Queensland v New South Wales
The time for the biggest games in Australian rugby league has arrived as Queensland and New South Wales limber up for the three matches which define Australian bragging rights. Such is the lure of State of Origin, the fixtures are invariably in the top ten best watched television programs each year and 2018’s first instalment has various plot lines which look set to grab rugby league fans’ interest around the world.
Firstly, the record appearance holder in the series, Cameron Smith, is going to be absent for only the second time since 2003 having retired from representative duty last month. Boasting a remarkable 27 wins in the Maroon jersey, the hugely experienced hooker will be a hard man to replace for Queensland coach Kevin Walters but, in terms of the armband, he has another hugely experienced Australian to call on. Greg Inglis, 31, is the record try scorer in the series and will be one of the players to watch for the reigning title holders. The Maroons boast seventy three more Origin appearances than their New South Wales opponents and have three debutants in their announced squad for the game; Andrew McCullough, replacing Smith at hooker, Melbourne’s Felise Kaufusi and Jai Arrow of the Gold Coast Titans.
In stark contrast to that, Brad Fittler – New South Wales’ record Origin appearance holder and current head coach – has named a record breaking eleven rookies in his seventeen for Wednesday’s opener. In his maiden campaign at the helm having replaced Laurie Daley in the hotseat, Fittler has only retained Boyd Cordner – the sole try scorer in the RLWC final last year – James Tedesco, James Maloney, David Klemmer, Tyson Frizell and Jake Trbojevic from last year’s series. Having seen the Blues lose eleven of the last twelve Origin campaigns, Fittler has clearly seen fit to ring the changes and revitalise New South Wales’ fortunes. The highly rated Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr join the ranks in the three-quarters while Nathan Cleary makes his Origin debut alongside his Penrith Panthers half back partner Maloney, a man who made his maiden appearance for the Blues in 2013.
What will be interesting to see if the battle between experience and youth at the MCG on Wednesday morning but one would predict that, in the opening game of what many view as the pinnacle of representative rugby league – especially Down Under – the know-how and game management of the Queensland Maroons will prevail over the much younger Blues. That, however, may change as the series progresses and Fittler’s New South Wales charges grow into the occasion.
Queensland line up: 1. Billy Slater, 2. Valentine Holmes, 3. Greg Inglis (c), 4. Will Chambers, 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
New South Wales line up: 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