With the world once again spinning on it’s correct axis after a pandemic effected 2020 season, the NRL’s showpiece event – State of Origin – is back to being played mid-season.
And with the best of three ‘state v state, mate v mate’ series set to kick off in Townsville on Wednesday night, we here at Zero Tackle have run our eyes across Paul Green and Brad Fittler‘s line ups for the opener, and have made a call on which superstar is set to come up trumps in an array of key positional posts.
From the fullback slot to each side’s benches, here are the six spots on the field that the warring teams will need to win the upper hand in if they are to claim victory at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
In his past four starts for the former New York Jet, Holmes has accumulated 32 points, 18 tackle breaks and a pair of try assists.
Still, with James Tedesco – arguably the best fullback currently plying his trade in the league – as his opposite, it’s almost impossible not to give ‘Teddy’ the points prior to kick-off.
Verdict – Tedesco
RELATED: Game 1 Team Lists
As this battle for ascendancy between the number sixes is taking place between last season’s Wally Lewis medalist and the current form five-eighth in the league, this contest within a contest is set to be the most intriguing across the series.
Despite the fact that Munster has recently been hampered with injury, the playmaker from Rockhampton will almost certainly still have ‘Freddie’ reaching for some Nurofen relief from ‘go to whoa’.
Although Luai has played a more than instrumental role in helping Penrith to a 12-1 start in their redemption campaign, the debutant is set to face plenty of attention from Queensland‘s defensive line throughout the opener.
If the 24-year-old can handle the heat and continue his borderline telepathic relationship with fellow Panthers and Blues half Nathan Cleary, then it will go a long way to the Cockroaches reclaiming the shield.
Verdict – Munster
Despite the fact that ‘DCE’ is the more seasoned of this pair, the New South Welshman is without doubt the current form player of the 2021 season.
With his playmaking partner in crime beside him, and seasonal averages of 13.3 points, 3.6 tackle breaks, as well as a mean of a try assist each week, Cleary is our clear choice in the battle of the sevens.
There isn’t really anything else that can be said until his heady form is headed.
Verdict – Cleary
As this pair of these aforementioned rakes have the ability to burst away from the play the ball with lightening pace, both sets of backs can expect to be breaking the line at speed if Grant and Cook are humming.
Although Cook’s game has profited from the recently implemented ‘six-again’ rule, and the fact that his opposite number has been hamstrung of late, Grant’s recent form for the Storm has been breathtaking – even if it has been limited.
With the Maroons camp believing that the former Tiger is up for the challenge of playing the full 80-minutes in Townsville, if this plan doesn’t come to fruition, and the 23-year-old blows up early, then our prediction looks set to follow the same fate.
However, we’re backing in last season’s Rookie of the Year to continue breaking ground and to use the series to stake his claim for the green and gold starting position ahead of the World Cup.
Verdict – Grant
RELATED: Origin Watch: Game one preview
Any pack that combines the experience of Kaufusi with the raw power of Fifita is going to be hard to stop, but any pairing that contains the hard running, baby faced Souths assassin in Cam Murray cannot be entirely discounted either.
With Fifita having accrued a league leading 78 tackle breaks so far in 2021, and Tariq Sims seen by many as the weak link in the Blues‘ line, it’s hard to go against Queensland‘s pair of bigs – especially with Fifita’s fellow Titan, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui nearby to lend a hand at lock.
However, if Murray can stay on the park and get his running game going early, then this contest could well be a tight one.
Verdict – Fifita & Kaufusi
Wighton, Paulo, Haas & Martin vs Brimson, Su’a, Fotuaika & Ofahengaue
On form, we’re tipping the Blues‘ bench, due to the facts that Haas and Paulo will inject plenty when required, Martin is currently enjoying a career year at the foot of the Blue Mountains, and Wighton is the competition’s reigning Dally M medalist – even if he has been underperforming recently.
When analysing flexibility, we’ve once again picked the New South Welsh reserves.
Even if Fittler has decided to list a fourth fullback in Wighton, the Raider affords ‘Freddie’ plenty of pliability throughout his backline.
Despite this stance, we are intrigued to see how AJ Brimson will handle any minutes at the nine spot if Paul Green is forced to shift him there.
Verdict – Blues bench
Game 1 Prediction
Despite the evenness of our scoring, the Blues class across the park should see them start this year’s series better than last season – even if it is in enemy territory.
Final Score: NSW 22 – QLD 10
1st Try Scorer: Brian To’o
Man of the Match: Nathan Cleary