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State of Origin – Five Players To Watch In Game 1

The 2023 State of Origin series gets underway on Wednesday night – and all 34 combatants have a vital role to play at Adelaide Oval. But a handful of superstars have the potential to have a greater say in the result than most.

Reece Walsh

It’s a debut that was originally slated for two years ago, when he just 18 with only seven NRL games under his belt, before injury intervened.

Walsh belatedly arrives in the Origin arena  a more rounded and composed player. But he’s still raw, and given the position he plays – and that he’s been chose ahead of a proven Origin performer in Kalyn Ponga – and his high-octane, high-risk style, Walsh will be under more scrutiny than any other player.

The lightweight custodian will undoubtedly be targetted, too, by NSW in defence and under the high ball.

But Walsh’s strength is his unshakeable confidence in his rare talent and the ability to brush off an error rather than go into his shell. Like Ponga, he provides the Maroons with a genuine extra creative ball-playing and kicking option.

Since rejoining the Broncos from the Warriors this season, he’s racked up an amazing 13 try-assists, eight line-breaks and 61 tackle-breaks, along with four tries, in 11 games. Most of it’s been out-and-out highlight-reel material.

How that transfers to the interstate cauldron remains to be seen…but it’s going to be fun finding out.

Walsh is $3.30 to score a try, while he’s $14 – second-favourite among the Maroons – to become the first player since NSW forward Les Davidson in 1987 to pick up man-of-the-match honours on debut.

Latrell Mitehell

Sidelined for the entire 2022 series, the portents for having Mitchell back in the line-up are mouth-watering for NSW on a number of fronts.

Mitchell has played seven Origin matches – including all three matches of the 2018 and 2021 series wins – and scored six tries. He terrorised the Maroons in the latter campaign, bagging a double in the game one demolition and dotting down in both remaining encounters.

Under less pressure to be constantly involved at centre in his Origin guise rather than his week-to-week job as Souths’ fullback and most important player, Mitchell can pick and choose his moments more carefully. Though an elite No.1, Latrell would probably be regarded as the game’s top centre if played their at club level and he starred throughout the World Cup for Australia in that position.

Mitchell also provides the passion and fire – without sacrificing his brilliance – that is custom-made for Origin football. Get him at $12.50 for First Tryscorer, $2.70 Anytime Tryscorer and $12 for a maiden man-of-the-match gong.

Nathan Cleary

Cleary has won two State of Origin man-of-the-match awards – both in game two blowouts, in 2020 and 2022. Nothing wrong with that, but producing his peerless best in a tight interstate encounter is about the only box left to tick in his career.

The Penrith linchpin now has 13 Origins under his belt, but he was one of the Blues put under the microscope after their failure in last year’s decider. Cleary wasn’t terrible…but there was a feeling he should have been able to lead NSW to victory over a vastly under-strength Queensland in a close game.

He’s a proven big-game player – a Clive Churchill Medal winner in a grand final cliffhanger – but he hasn’t quite found the key to turning an Origin unless the Blues are running downhill.

The most important player on the park in either side on Wednesday night, Cleary is a hot $5.50 man-of-the-match favourite. This needs to be the series where he genuinely starts the ascent to Origin great status.

Cleary scored two tries in a 20-point haul in game two last year, rendering him decent value at $4.60 in the Anytime Tryscorer stakes.

Cameron Munster

Some players just have a knack of lifting to another stratospheric level in State Origin with incredible frequency – from champions like Wally Lewis and Laurie Daley, to less likely types like Dane Gagai, Brent Tate and Paul Gallen.

Munster is already established as one of the greats of his era, but his ability to take Origin games by the scruff of the neck has already become a major part of his legacy…it’s eerily Lewis-like. He produced one of the great Origin debuts in the 2017 decider, despite having played only a handful of NRL games at five-eighth to that point; he capped a sensational 2020 series with man-of-the-match honours in the decider as Queensland pulled off one of the unlikeliest triumphs in the concept’s history; and he was almost untouchable in turning last year’s series opener on its head in a 16-10 upset.

Munster missed the 2022 decider boilover with COVID – so the Maroons can without him – but he remains his state’s most important player. The one most capable of pulling them out of tight spot.

The 15-game veteran is just $6.50 in the man-of-the-match market and $4.10 to score his third Origin try.

Payne Haas

Sorely missed by NSW in last year’s decider, Haas has been solid rather than spectacularly good in his nine Origins to date. He’s come off the bench in five of those, while the experienced likes of Jake Trbojevic and Reagan Campbell-Gillard have been there as prop partners when he’s started. 

But with Trbojevic and RCG sidelined, the time is right for Haas to lead the Blues’ front-row battery. Junior Paulo provides tremendous grunt from the pine but he’s the only prop on the bench, while flaky debutant Tevita Pangai Jr is the other starter…Haas will have to put in a big shift and it needs to be quality.

Queensland’s middle-forward tyros – Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Reuben Cotter, Thomas Flegler – will be primed to grow an extra leg in the name of state pride. There’s an expectation that Dally M Medal leader Haas at least produces his top-tier NRL form to set the foundation for a NSW win.

Haas is $13 in the man-of-the-match market, behind only Cleary, Munster, James Tedesco and Mitchell.

BET ON STATE OF ORIGIN GAME 1 HERE:

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