Every series is called “the biggest Origin ever” but this one fits the bill. Will Game I confirm the changing of the guard, or can Queensland recapture their dominance?
Ben Hunt and Moses Mbye: How Does It Work?
The Cameron Smith comeback isn’t happening, so it’s down to Ben Hunt and Moses Mbye to fill the hooking rotation.
How this all works is anybody’s guess at the moment. Kevin Walters might not even know what he’s going to do with the pair. He didn’t know what to do with Ponga last year.
Mbye surely spends minutes and enters this one as the backup hooker first and bench utility/injury cover second. Declining an opportunity to play four forwards and use Michael Morgan as injury cover for most backline positions given David Fifita’s ability to play in the centres, Walters will waste a bench spot if Mbye isn’t productive.
Hunt won’t be out of place at dummy half. His service will at least be top draw quality. It’s how he deals with the defensive workload in the middle that raises questions.
It’s the largest potential hole in the Queensland side and could decide the series if the two of them aren’t up to it.
Is Damien Cook The Game-Winner?
While Queensland wonders what they’re going to do with their hooking rotation, New South Wales have the favourite for the Man of the Match slotting into dummy-half.
Damien Cook is at $6 to be the best player on the field in Game I. In stellar form playing under Wayne Bennett, Cook’s 14 try assists is the most in the NRL. He’s become more than just a darter out of dummy-half. Cook is kicking better, making better decisions, and using the doubt his speed puts into defenders to put teammates into gaps.
— NRL (@NRL) April 19, 2019
Cook’s running game is perfect for Origin. With so much of the game played in the centre-third, he’s always ready for when a tiring defender is out of position. But should this game open up a bit more, Cook has acted as another half during good ball sets for the Rabbitohs.
His combination with Cody Walker can’t be underestimated either.
Playing in just his fourth Origin match, expect Cook to leave his fingerprints all over this one.
Can An Out Of Form Cleary Handle The Origin Pressure?
Like Brad Fittler said, everybody told him not to pick Nathan Cleary.
But, here we are.
Further to news on Adam Reynolds, understand even though he has been cleared he will not be in NSW side. Halves expected to be Cody Walker and Nathan Cleary
— Brent Read (@brentread_7) May 26, 2019
The 21-year-old has been handed the keys to the Blues in just his fourth Origin appearance. Tasked with steering the team around the field as the more traditional organising half, it’s up to Cleary to get Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Latrell Mitchell into positions on the field to unleash their attacking talents.
It’s important that Cleary gets his hands on the ball early and often.
He’s unlikely to have too many opportunities to attack from inside the opposition 20-metre line to start this one, but he can still have an impact on the game from the beginning.
Nobody doubts his talent. Fittler certainly has trust in Cleary’s ability. Will it shine in Game I, though?
What Role Do The Bench’s Play?
Both teams are sending out three players each to debut off the bench.
That raises all sorts of questions over how they can impact the game and when they might enter it.
What is Jack Wighton going to do out there? He’s a fullback and five-eighth, but Cody Walker and James Tedesco aren’t going to be pulled from the field at any point. Is it worth crowbarring him in the middle to give a middle-forward a rest? If that’s the way Fitler goes, why not just carry another forward?
Payne Haas and Cameron Murray make up the other debutants on the Blues bench with Angus Crichton in the 17 jersey. Haas and Murray are two of the best young forwards in the game and will more than likely be productive in short and sharp stints. Haas, in particular, could put up some monster numbers even if he only plays 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, Crichton adds the experience to the bench. His club form hasn’t been of great standard, but he knows what to expect and can be relied upon in the Origin arena.
"10 minutes can feel like 3 hours at times in that arena, it will be hard for him it's not going to be easy for Payne Haas" Trent Barrett
— FOX LEAGUE (@FOXNRL) June 3, 2019
Mbye’s role is similar to Wighton’s – who really knows what it is.
Like Haas and Murray, debutants in Joe Ofahengaue and David Fifita pack some punch on the Queensland bench. Both are familiar with coming off the pine given their roles at club level. Ofahengaue will find his yardage through the middle no matter the situation of the game. Fifita’s inclusion and role may be more situational. His versatility gives Walters some flexibility depending on what the team needs at the time.
Filling the experience role similar to Crichton, Dylan Napa makes up the rest of the bench. Impressive enough for the Bulldogs, he will spend the 10-15 minutes either side of halftime trying to hurt as man men wearing blue as he can.
Who Wins Origin Game I?
The odds-makers have New South Wales as slight favourites at $1.80 to Queensland’s $2.
Playing at Suncorp can’t be underestimated, and depending on the crowd, could give the Maroons the boost they need to cause the upset. Queensland has won 35 of the 56 games at Suncorp Stadium and ten of the last 12. They’ll be well aware that the winner of Game I more than likely goes onto win the whole Origin series.
Plenty has been made of Kevin Walters and his, let’s say, interesting approach heading into this one. But at the end of the day, 17 elite footy players will run out onto the field on Wednesday. If they’re on the same page and working together, all of the coach whisperer headlines will be nothing but a distant memory.
New South Wales have the advantage of winning the last series. However, the form of a side that hasn’t played for 11 months that is also introducing six new faces isn’t easy to measure.
Playing at Suncorp and with a little more cohesion and consistency in their key playmaking positions, Queensland gets the nod at $2.