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State of Origin: Five Players to Watch in Game 1

The 2024 State of Origin series gets underway on Wednesday night – and all 34 combatants have a vital role to play at Accor Stadium in Sydney, New South Wales. However, a handful of superstars can potentially have a greater say in the result than most.

Nicho Hynes

Nicho Hynes has a point to prove. Set to play his second game for the Blues, Hynes has been handed the reigns of the most important position on the field due to the absence of Nathan Cleary – this comes after he was overlooked by previous coach Brad Fittler. Continually one of the best performers at the club level, he will be hoping to translate it to the Origin arena and cement his name as one of the state’s great players, following in the footsteps of Cleary, Andrew Johns, Ricky Stuart, Mitchell Pearce and Tommy Raudonikis.

However, as Hynes was rewarded with the Blues No.7 jersey, he has been under an injury cloud over the past few weeks and failed to train with the team on Wednesday. He missed the game against the Storm two weeks ago and was taken off the field in his last match for the Sharks due to a calf strain. Matt Burton and Luke Keary have been brought in as coverage for Michael Maguire if he is unavailable for the clash, but Hynes is adamant he will run out on Wednesday night.

The NSW Blues halfback sits at $9.00 to claim the 2024 Wally Lewis Medal – the leading contender from the NSW Blues – and will be looking to get his state over the line on Wednesday, who are currently at $2.00 compared to their opponents at $1.80.

Reece Walsh

Making his State of Origin debut last year, Brisbane Broncos fullback Reece Walsh emerged as an X-factor in the three-game series and will don the Queensland jersey again this year. The livewire fullback is incredibly dangerous with the ball in his hands and can turn nothing into something, and he has also proved multiple times that his defence isn’t a liability at the back of the field.

As Walsh steps into the Origin arena, he has also grown under coach Billy Slater, who was regarded as the top fullback in the NRL during his playing days for the Kangaroos, Maroons and Melbourne Storm. Playing under Slater with multiple stars around him, he is slated to excel on Wednesday and could prove the main difference-maker in the clash.

Regarded as the most marketable player in the NRL, Walsh is $2.90 to cross the line for a try and is listed as the favourite to claim the 2024 Wally Lewis Medal at $6.00.

Joseph Suaalii

Set to depart the NRL for Rugby Australia at the end of the season, Joseph Suaalii’s inclusion into the NSW Blues wasn’t a surprise due to his form but because he will switch codes in less than six months from now. While many pundits believed he didn’t deserve to be selected, Michael Maguire chose him due to his great form with the Sydney Roosters and will make his Origin debut for the Blues come Wednesday night.

Despite leaving for the 15-man code at the end of the season, Suaalii has hit career-best form at the Sydney Roosters this season, creating a lethal combination with fellow centre Joseph Manu. Playing in the centres for the Blues, he is not only a freak athlete when running the ball but is nearly unstoppable when contesting balls in the air. He will be looking to make his mark against either Valentine Holmes or Hamsio Tabuai-Fidow – two players he has previously shone against at club level.

“Every four-year-old kid who plays rugby league, you watch (Origin), you remember watching it in front of the TV as a kid,” he recently told The Daily Telegraph.

“Now being able to put on that Blue jersey and being able to represent everyone in NSW, it feels surreal, proud.”

For the match on Wednesday, Joseph Suaalii is at a reasonable price of $3.60 as an anytime tryscorer but also sits at $17.00 to be the opening tryscorer of the match.

Tom Dearden

After making a one-off appearance for Queensland in the 2022 State of Origin series, Tom Dearden will return to the Origin this year under the same circumstances that saw him make his debut for the Maroons – an injury to Cameron Munster. However, the Cowboys playmaker is no stranger to the Origin stage helping guide his state to a 22-12 win in Game Three of 2022 and was regarded as one of the best players on the field.

Brought in as coverage for the injured Cameron Munster, Dearden was selected by Billy Slater after beating out Ezra Mam for the No.6 jersey. While he understands that he wasn’t Slater’s first choice, he is looking to play his own game on the field on Wednesday and not try to replicate Munster or anyone else.

“I don’t have to be Cameron Munster or anyone else, I’ve just go to go out there, get my job done and play to my strengths,” he told media earlier this week.

“They’re definitely big shoes to fill, we know how important he’s been for Queensland but I think the most important thing for me and preparing for this week is to make sure I stick to playing my strengths.

“When I go out on to the footy field I know exactly what my job is and where my strengths are and what I need to do to have a good game.”

The last time Tom Dearden played for Queensland in 2022, he was regarded as one of the best players on the ground. Taking over from Cameron Munster, Dearden will be eager to get Queensland the win at $1.80 and is an outside chance to take the 2024 Wally Lewis Medal at $21.00 – only behind teammates Reece Walsh, Patrick Carrigan, Daly Cherry-Evans, Reuben Coter and Lindsay Collins.

Spencer Leniu

One of the shock selections by new NSW Blues coach Michael Maguire, Spencer Leniu, has only featured in four games this season for the Roosters before earning the call-up. While he faced a multi-week suspension after an incident in his club debut for the Roosters, he is still a three-time premiership winner and has been regarded as the best impact player off the interchange bench in the NRL.

Reuniting with his former Panthers teammates in the Blues camp, Leniu may only be given 10-30 minutes of game time, but it can be assured that he will make an immediate impact once he runs out onto the field. The Samoan international told Palmerbet that he looked up to Paul Gallen growing up, and he is sure to bring the same fire come Wednesday evening.

Looking to make an immediate impact off the interchange bench, Spencer Leniu is at $11.50 to score a try once he is on the field. He will also pay a nice price of $34 if he scores and the NSW Blues win by 1-12 or $41 if they win by 13+.

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