State of Origin - NSW v QLD: Game 2
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 11: Tino Fa'asuamaleaui of the Maroons and Payne Haas of the Blues scuffle during game two of the 2020 State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at ANZ Stadium on November 11, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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.

Fullback

James Tedesco v Valentine Holmes

On face value, this appears an easy decision to make.
However, in the past month of the season, Maroons number one, Valentine Holmes has started to find his form.

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

State of Origin - NSW v QLD: Game 2
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 11: James Tedesco of the Blues charges forward during game two of the 2020 State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the QueenslandMaroons at ANZ Stadium on November 11, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)


RELATED: Game 1 Team Lists


Five-Eighth

 Jarome Luai vs Cameron Munster 

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

State of Origin - QLD v NSW: Game 1
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 04: Cameron Munster of the Maroons looks to offload the ball during game one of the 2020 State of Origin series between the QueenslandMaroons and the New South Wales Blues at the Adelaide Oval on November 04, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Halfback 

Nathan Cleary vs Daly Cherry-Evans

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

State of Origin - QLD v NSW: Game 1
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 04: Nathan Cleary of the Blues offloads the ball during game one of the 2020 State of Origin series between the QueenslandMaroons and the New South Wales Blues at the Adelaide Oval on November 04, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) 

Hooker

Damien Cook vs Harry Grant 

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

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 18: Harry Grant of the Maroons celebrates scoring a try during game three of the State of Origin series between the QueenslandMaroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on November 18, 2020 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)


RELATED: Origin Watch: Game one preview

Second Row 

Cameron Murray & Tariq Sims vs David Fifita & Felise Kaufusi 

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

NRL Rd 2 - Titans v Broncos
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 19: David Fifita of the Titans celebrates during the round two NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Brisbane Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium on March 19, 2021, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Bench

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

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 04: Jack Wighton of the Blues runs onto the field during game one of the 2020 State of Origin series between the QueenslandMaroons and the New South Wales Blues at the Adelaide Oval on November 04, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)


Final Scorecard

New South Wales - 3
Queensland - 3 

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