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State of Origin Tips & Preview – Game 1

The 2023 State of Origin series is here, with the bitter rivals opening the rubber in Adelaide on Wednesday night. Queensland hold the shield after last year’s boilover, but New South Wales are favourites for game one and the series. 

State of Origin Tips – Queensland V New South Wales

20:05 (AEST), Wed 31st May @ Adelaide Oval

History: Played 126,Queensland 67, New South Wales 57, draws 2

Last Series:

  • Game 1, 2022 – Queensland 16 def NSW 10 at Accor Stadium, Sydney
  • Game 2, 2022 – NSW 44 def Queensland 12 at Optus Stadium, Perth
  • Game 3, 2022 – Queensland 22 def NSW 12 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Team News: NSW coach Brad Fittler and Queensland counterpart Billy Slater both threw up some series-opening surprises when they named their game one squads earlier this week.

Fittler was pilloried for his selections last season as the Blues sunk to a shock series loss…and the best compliment you could pay him is this line-up isn’t quite as contentious. But there’s still some iffy calls. Alongside automatic picks Brian To’o and Latrell Mitchell, the three-quarter line will feature injured hampered pair Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr on the strength of 11th-hour NRL bids on Sunday. Campbell Graham seemed certain of a debut but was named 18th man, before pulling out with injury.

A recent form revival saved Jarome Luai’s five-eighth spot, with Nicho Hynes to debut off the bench. NSW has run with two hookers in their 17 in recent years, but starting No.9 Api Koroisau will be the only specialist in Adelaide.

The biggest shock, though, came in the front-row with the enigmatic Tevita Pangai Jr named to start following Jake Trbojevic’s Round 12 injury. It seems an unnecessary, low-percentage gamble when the likes of Tevita Tatloa and the Saifiti brothers were available. Even 19th man tyro Stefano Utoikamanu would have raised less eyebrows.

Otherwise, though, the Blues’ pack looks an excellent blend of gritty experience (Yeo, Frizell, Murray, Paulo) and fiery youth (Haas, Martin and debutant Hudson Young).

The Maroons rocked the 2022 series-winning boat by axing Kalyn Ponga, man-of-the-match in last year’s decider, and perennial Origin overachiever Dane Gagai. In their place are debutant fullback Reece Walsh and one-gamer Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, a fullback at club level but picked at centre. Murray Taulagi could be considered fortunate to clinch a wing spot ahead of Xavier Coates.

The backline and spine otherwise chose itself, but the late retirement call from Josh Papalii and Felise Kaufusi’s suspension left the forward-pack experience cupboard pretty bare – particularly after Kurt Capewell and Christian Welch were overlooked. Thomas Flegler won a front-row start with Lindsay Collins, and David Fifita and Tom Gilbert will form a second-row combination few would have predicted at the start of the year.

Origin-wise, Jai Arrow and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui are the elder statesmen of the Queensland engine-room. In contrast to uncertainty of how Fittler’s dummy-half puzzle will pan out, Slater has the luxury of a Ben Hunt-Harry Grant rotation that has worked to outstanding effect in recent series.

What We Like: The total match points line has been set at just 36.5 points, with five of the last nine Origins and 12 of the last 18 falling below that mark. Only one of the last 11 series openers produced more than 34 points, suggesting the under is still the smart play.

Meanwhile, Queensland have only scored more than 16 points twice in the past two series (both in game three), while they have only post more than 16 once in their last 10 Origin losses. If you’re backing the Maroons to lose, an under 16.5 total may be a good SGM accompaniment. Likewise, NSW (whose total line is 18.5) have not scored more than 18 points in their last 16 Origin losses – but they’ve scored 26-plus in their last six Origin wins.

In the Anytime Tryscorer stakes, Addo-Carr ($2.12) has dotted down 10 times in 12 Origins, To’o ($2.35) has scored three tries in six games, Mitchell ($2.70) boasts six tries in seven matches and Trbojevic ($2.95) has crossed nine times in eight Origins. Addo-Carr has four Origin doubles, while Trbojevic has scored the last two of just 10 hat-tricks in Origin history. Prolific NRL back-row tryscorer Young is a juicy $5 to score on debut.

With 11 tries in 13 Origins – including a hat-trick in 2017 and a double in 2018 – Valentine Holmes ($3.60) is the only Queenslander with much tryscoring form in this arena. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow ($3.40) scored a try in his only previous Origin (also at centre) and has been one of the NRL’s most potent from fullback this season. David Fifita ($3.75) has rediscovered his tryscoring touch with four in his last four games for the Titans, while Reece Walsh ($3.60) is a tempting option for a dream debut four-pointer.

Final Thoughts: The Blues are $1.66 favourites giving away 2.5 points at the line – very similar to last year’s series opener in Sydney, where the Maroons went one-nil up (four the third time in four years) via a gutsy, Cameron Munster-led 16-10 win.

Queensland also produced a major upset in the only previous game to be played in Adelaide, an 18-14 result in the 2020 series opener – their only win in the last five neutral-venue Origins.

NSW has the experience advantage everywhere except in the halves and at hooker, while on paper they seem to have an edge in backline strikepower, and middle-forward size and grunt. Nathan Cleary had an unhappy decider last year but dominated in the Blues’ big game two victory…if he’s allowed to dictate terms, it’s hard to see them being beaten.

But we have been here before – the Maroons revel in the underdog and there’s enough common threads from their inspiring 2020 and ’22 successes, and players in great form at club level to be confident heading into next Wednesday.

Nevertheless, barring ‘Freddy’s’ more dicey selection calls backfiring, most signs point towards a hard-fought Blues victory.

Related

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State of Origin: Game 2 Preview

State of Origin: Five Players to Watch in Game 1

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