Mate versus mate, state versus state.
It is that time of the year again where attention turns to one of the biggest rivalries the sport has to offer as New South Wales and Queensland go head-to-head in the 2021 State of Origin series. Throughout the years this titanic battle between the pair has given us some truly brutal and electrifying moments, from Mark Coyne’s miracle try to Wally Lewis’ clash with Mark Geyer and even Michael O’Connor’s game-winning conversion. All in all, the clash between the two states rarely disappoints and remains one of the most highly-anticipated fixtures on the rugby league calendar.
The Maroons come into this one as the reigning shield holders and, despite last year’s squad being dubbed one of their worst-ever, they still overcame plenty of negativity to secure an outstanding series win. If they want to retain it this year though, then they will have to do it without the experience of Wayne Bennett at the helm as Paul Green takes up the lead role this year. The former Cowboys head coach looks to have brought in a similar squad to last year with plenty of exciting young talent at his disposal in the likes of Xavier Coates, David Fifita, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui as well as Harry Grant who played a more than vital role in the Maroons’ game three win last year.
Meanwhile, the Blues will no doubt have some revenge on their mind as coach Brad Fittler looks to return his side to the winning ways of 2018 and 2019. Their attack this year is not without sheer quality and creativity yet again as they will be spearheaded by plenty of elite attacking talent including Penrith’s dynamic halves duo Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai while the added presence of James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell lining up together in the backline is more than a dream come true for any coach.
Truthfully, there is not much you can say about such a fixture, only that when that hooter sounds expect nothing but fireworks between two sides who bring a great amount of fire, desire, emotion and competitiveness out of each other whilst leaving you right on the edge of your seat.
New South Wales squad: Tedesco, To’o, Mitchell, T Trbojevic, Addo-Carr, Luai, Cleary, Saifiti, Cook, J Trbojevic, Murray, Sims, Yeo, Wighton, Paulo, Haas, Martin, Koroisau, Graham. Coach: Brad Fittler.
Queensland: Ponga, Coates, Capewell, Gagai, Holmes, Cherry-Evans, Munster, Welch, Grant, Fa’asuamaleaui, Kaufusi, Fifita, Arrow, Brimson, Su’A, Fotuaika, Ofahengaue, Feldt, Mahoney, Hess. Coach: Paul Green.
The trio of James Tedesco (hip), Josh Addo-Carr (hip) and Payne Haas (knee) are all back in training and all expected to suit up for the Blues. The Panthers dominate the starting 13 with Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary partnering in the halves while Brian To’o makes his debut on the wing and Isaah Yeo is the preferred choice at loose forward. South Sydney forward Keaon Koloamatangi has been added to the squad to provide extra depth.
A big boost for Queensland as Cameron Munster has been cleared to play while AJ Brimson also looks set to feature despite training in a knee brace. Despite missing two training sessions due to illness, Dane Gagai looks a certain to feature come game day while Felise Kaufusi is also free to play after beating a tripping charge at the judiciary. Reed Mahoney was released back to Parramatta but a shoulder injury now looks to keep him out for the next two weeks.
Players to watch
Amid all the elite talent on show for Queensland, one player tends to come alive more than any other during Origin season and that is Dane Gagai. The 30-year-old centre’s record for the Maroons speaks for itself with 11 tries in 16 appearances making him one Green’s most lethal attacking weapons going into the 2021 series.
In terms of New South Wales, Tom Trbojevic could be the man that makes all the difference. The 24-year-old has been a joy to watch since making his return from an injury earlier on in the season and he has completely revamped a Manly side that once looked lost without him. A total of eight tries and 13 assists in seven games this season tells you everything you need to know about how dangerous the man can be with the ball in his hand.
There are so many big battles to choose from but the hooker match-up between New South Wales’ Damien Cook and Queensland’s Harry Grant could be one of the most integral in terms of the entire series. Both players are two of the most skilled at their position in the NRL with Cook’s pace and electric bursts out of dummy-half proving to be a big handful while Grant’s toughness and dynamism make him one of the most exciting young talents in the game at the moment.
Date and time
Wednesday, June 9 (11:10am UK time)
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville