BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05: Dane Gagai of QLD 1breaks free to score a try during game one of the 2019 State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on June 05, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

It may be early November, but it is that time of year again.

New South Wales v Queensland.
State v State.
Mate v Mate.
Origin.

Although this season’s belated series is expected to be anything but a close contest, a fine-toothed comb still needs to be run through both teams.

For Maroons fans, they’ll be asking just why is it expected to be a blow out and what exactly will Wayne Bennett have to say about these prevailing predictions?

For their hated southern neighbours, the only queries will be surrounding just how many lengths they pass the post first by.

Ahead of tonight’s 118th meeting between these arch-rivals, we place both the Cane Toads and the Cockroaches under the microscope.


Will this be the only post-season series?

Due to the Corona virus dictating a somewhat compromised regular season, it made sense for the league to schedule this best of three series at its completion.

Fans and clubs alike have long asked for the series to be shifted from its standard mid-season time slot, so as to allow for full-strength line ups in regular season fixtures.

Despite the league’s hand being forced into the shift, they have gone on record to state that a move back to the middle of the year may not be on the cards.

When speaking on Channel Nine in late August, Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys claimed television ratings would dictate whether the end of season move would become permanent.

“It’s an interesting experiment this year playing State of Origin after the season because it also ensures the integrity of the game throughout the year, because you haven’t got that break where the good teams lose out because all their good players are playing State of Origin,” V’landys told Channel Nine.

“If it rates the roof off, it could be a permanent change to have it after the season.”

Due to the first of three clashes being played on the neutral territory of the Adelaide Oval, you can be certain that V’landys and his cohorts will be expecting a ratings bonanza.

Should this continue in games two and three, then it looks likely that the Rugby League’s showpiece event will remain as a post-season series.

 

Can Queensland avoid a whitewash?

If you hold both squads up to the light, it appears severely unlikely that anything other than a 3-0 Blues’ victory will come to pass.

In Wayne Bennett’s squad of 21 players, 12 are Origin first timers. Conversely for New South Wales, Brad Fittler’s squad could not appear more settled.

The Blues, boasting seven names that lined up in this year’s Grand Final, look to have winners in every position.

Although this experience comes with great expectation, you’ll be hard pressed to find a paid pundit willing to publicly back the Maroons tonight.

That is of course unless you ask Joel Caine.

The former Dragon and Tiger spoke Wednesday morning on 1170 SEN Breakfast about his theory for a Queensland upset in game one.

“My thing throughout the (NRL) finals, was that the most rested team won, and the most rested team without doubt is Queensland,” Caine said.

“It’s just got this little coup about it. I think AJ Brimson has to win man of the match for them to win this game, and I think he will.

“I think AJ Brimson is an absolute superstar. He flew under the radar a little bit, yes you lose (Kalyn) Ponga, but without doubt for the last two months of the season Brimson was playing far better than Ponga.

“This kid is a superstar.”

Caine continued by citing potential issues with chemistry as another obstacle impeding a runaway Blues win.

“I like the Queensland team, not only for the reason that they’re rested, but for the reason that New South Wales has two left wingers, they’ve got fullbacks playing in the centre and they have a new halves pairing,” Caine added.

“I think Queensland is going to win tonight.”

Whether or not Caine’s contrarian view has been aired solely to direct traffic to his other employer Sportsbet remains this cynic’s burning question. However, should the baby Maroons draw first blood in South Australia tonight, they won’t have been entirely unsupported.


Can we expect a South Sydney style of play from Bennett’s baby Maroons?

Under the watchful eye of master coach Wayne Bennett, the South Sydney Rabbitohs piled on the points in the back half of the regular season.

Full time totals of well beyond 30 became the norm, with climax coming in their Round 20 60-8 thumping of their arch-rivals the Sydney Roosters.

These gargantuan tallies were posted due to the impulsive, fast paced and almost disjointed game plan adopted by Bennett’s charges.

Although the seven-time Premiership coach will only have a single Rabbitoh (Dane Gagai) at his disposal tonight, there remains a strong likelihood that this ‘hit and run’ approach will be adopted by his newly assembled Queensland squad.

With so many journalists and pundits already putting a line through his team’s chances, what exactly does Bennett have to lose?

Bennett spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon and announced that “I’m confident without being overconfident.”

Should the deadpan coach’s belief flow through into his team’s output, whose to say we won’t see the ball thrown around offensively during each Queensland set?

If anyone can work magic with an untried outfit, it’s Bennett.

 

Who are Queensland’s key players?

It would come as a surprise to nobody that if Queensland could engineer a game one win, it would come off the offensive and defensive output of superstar Josh Papalli

Both gaining territory and holding opposition runs up in defense are key factors for Rugby League success. Luckily for Queenslanders, Papalii is an expert both with and without the Steeden.

Across his 2020 season for the Raiders, Papalii recorded 340 runs, 3,262 run metres, 44 tackle breaks, five linebreaks and 24 offloads on offense. When defending his line, the Auckland born colossus managed 675 tackles and just 13 missed opportunities.

The Maroons will be needing every bit of the second rower’s expertise tonight.

In Origin games that are renowned for their intensity, the dual kicking ability of halves Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans are another ace up Bennett’s sleeve.

Look for in-form debutant AJ Brimson to also add plenty of spark from the full back position.

 

Who are New South Wales’ key players?

Again, no surprises for guessing that both Nathan Cleary and Luke Keary’s performances will go a long way in deciding tonight’s result.

In a season where both halves polled inside the top five of the Dally M count, the pair averaged 125 points, 17.5 try assists, 12 linebreak assists and seven and a half individual linebreaks.

The pair were likely to have been selected as Brad Fittler’s halves combination for last year had it not been for injury, so look for the duo to make up for lost time and have the Queensland line in disarray.

As fellow top five finishers for the Dally M gong, both Jack Wighton and Clint Gutherson are also likely to have a say in how the scoreboard ends up.

Although both have been shunted from their regular position of full back in favour of James Tedesco, look for the red-hot backs to create a makeshift, but still menacing combination in the centres.

Game one predictions
New South Wales 24 – 8
1st try Scorer – Clint Gutherson
Man of the match – Nathan Cleary