state of origin game 1

State of Origin Game 1 preview from NRL pro punter Steve Green… including predicted score and suggested bet!

As with everything in 2020, State of Origin will be much different to previous years. The three week series is being played over consecutive weeks at the end of the season. This has meant that some big names are not lining up because of niggling injuries requiring post-season surgery (Ponga’s offseason surgery is a big loss for the Maroons).

State of Origin Game 1 is being played in Adelaide for the first time ever. To further add uncertainty to the event, Quuensland coach Kevin Walters has stepped down to focus on his new Broncos gig, meaning the master coach Wayne Bennett will again take the head coaching role for the Maroons.

With the squads named, it’s clear to me that Queensland would have to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Origin history to win State of Origin Game 1. Across the board, the NSW team has an edge. Their back five features this year’s Dally M winner (Wighton), as well as last year’s Dally M winner (Tedesco) and this year’s second place in the Dally M (Gutherson). In addition to that, the NSW halves pairing came third and fifth in the Dally M count. It is a backline full of in-form superstars. In contrast, Queenland will be running out four debutants in their back five players.

Up front, the NSW pack also has an edge. Coach Bennett has gone for the strange choice of choosing Jake Friend to make his debut at 9. I would have gone with either Grant or Hunt ahead of him. While Papi and Welch have both finished great seasons, Paulo and D Safiti – along with Cook at 9 – are a notch above the Queensland front row. And while Cordner is not in great form, Frizell and Jake T give the Blues an edge over the likes of Hess, Big Tino and Kaufusi.

But I think it’s on the bench where NSW’s superiority really shines through. With Crichton, Haas, Walker and Murray, the NSW has a bench of pure class. The three forwards would stroll into Queensland’s starting team, while Walker is capable of blowing this game wide open if he is given some game time.

As for Queensland, while Arrow and Su’a will add some grunt in defence when they come off the bench, neither are explosive in attack. I think that while Queensland’s host of gun starting players (Brimson, Papi, DCE, Munster) will keep them competitive early, the strength of the NSW team will become clear over the course of the game.

Queensland strengths

Strong spine

Brimson, Munster and DCE are three of the form players of the 2020 season. Despite playing in a poor Manly outfit, DCE still had 19 try assists for the regular season. Out of the players lining up in State of Origin Game 1, only Cleary had more. Munster is one of the best players in the NRL and is a big game player, while Brimson, despite being on debut and not having played much footy in 2020, finished the season with some dynamite performances for the resurgent Titans. While I would prefer Hunt to be given the starting 9 jersey over Friend, the fact that Hunt will come off the bench will provide QLD with some attacking flair around the ruck once the game opens up.

Underrated forwards

While Papalli would walk into the Australian team if it were picked right now, the rest of the Kangaroos forward pack would probably come from the NSW team. However, I think guys like Welch, Faufusi and Big Tino, who all come fresh off a Premiership and were playing great footy at the end of the year, will match up well to the likes of Jake T in State of Origin Game 1.

Cordner and D Saf

Su’a has also had a breakout year in 2020 and his big hitting defence is well suited to the Origin arena. Queensland origin history is full of stories of players that step up from their club form and reach a new level in Origin. Ethan Lowe’s amazing performance for Queensland in Game III last year is just the most recent example of this.

Wayne Bennett

If there is one coach that’s capable of bringing the best out of this Queensland squad and pulling off a big upset, it’s Bennett. While Bellamy and Robinson have dominated at club level over the last decade, Bennett’s ability to bring the best out of players in representative teams is unrivalled.

With Henry and Big Mal on his coaching staff, I think this Queensland team will be well prepared and have a simple but effective game plan to work towards.

Queensland weaknesses

Outside backs

Brenko Lee has surprised me at every turn this season. The former Bulldog, Titan and Raider has always had defensive issues, but at the Storm he seemed to have totally transformed his game. While he is still a dangerous attacking player, his missed tackle count of 16 in 11 games in 2020 is remarkably impressive. However, I think Lee’s defensive prowess at Melbourne had a lot to do with the structure Bellamy uses and Lee’s cohesion with his Storm team mates. He is still likely to be targeted by the stellar NSW back line. Similarly, Sami was not able to hold down a starting wing spot for the Titans this year and had some big defensive issues. Xavier Coates, despite having a ton of potential, did not reach the heights I thought he would in 2020 and was shown up often in defense for the Broncos. Both of these guys will have to play far better than then did in club land if they are not going to be a liability in State of Origin Game 1.

Jake Friend

I really don’t know what Bennett is thinking with this team selection. I hope the quality of State of Origin Game 1, there might be a late switch coming and Hunt given the 9 jersey. In his 17 games this year, Friend has averaged less than 20 running metres per game and managed only three try assists, two line breaks and one try. With so many concussions this year, I thought Friend might be close to hanging up the boots…so I am concerned about how he handles the speed and intensity of Origin.

NSW Strengths

Outside backs

The NSW back 5 are dynamite! While Gutherson and Wighton are playing out of position in the centres, both are clever footballers that have played in this position before. Addo-Carr and Tupou are two of the best finishers in the game and both provide awesome go-forward. As for Tedesco, he remains the best player in the world in my view and with his knee passing the fitness test, Queensland will struggle to contain him out wide. If NSW can get dominate possession and get some field position, Queensland will not be able to hold out the attack that NSW will throw at them.

Form

Coach Fittler has picked a team based on form and done away with the stupid loyalty policy that saw players get picked based on incumbency. This has meant that guys like Wade Graham and Blake Ferguson have been left out of the squad. In their place, guys like Tupou and Keary have been added to the squad because of their stellar 2020 form.

Cook is a point of difference

As mentioned above, I’m concerned about how Friend will play for Queensland and the lack of creativity he will provide around the ruck. But for Queensland’s sake, I am even more concerned about what Cook will do to their forward pack once they’re back peddling. Cook’s running game was amazing at the end of the season and playing behind this monster NSW forward pack I can see the speedy number 9 tearing the Maroons up the middle towards the end of each half. Although Walker may come on to take some game time away from Cook, the absence of a second dummy half in the 17 means there is a good chance Cook plays the full 80 minutes. If he makes a lot of tackles and has a good attacking game, then he will be among the contenders to win the Man of the Match on the night.

NSW weaknesses

I can’t see too many weaknesses in this NSW team. Coach Fittler has picked pretty much the perfect team in my view, however if I had to nominate one area of concern it could be the lack of cohesion between some key players. Cleary and Keary is untested as a halves pairing, whereas DCE and Munster have got to know each other well in recent years. While NSW have named a stellar backline, the centre and wing pairings for NSW could take a little while to get their timing right. If I was Queensland, I would be targeting Gutherson – who has not been terrific at one-on- one physical defence for the Eels.

Summary

This Blues team is stronger than the Maroons across the board. In previous years, I would still give Queensland a fighting chance since Origin is a different game, and the Maroons have won a lot of series in the past despite having weaker teams on paper. However, with the new rules and the desire for lots of speed and points, NSW are going to be incredibly hard to stop based on the teams that have been named.

I have the Blues winning this game by a few tries based on player ratings and if this was a club game, then this would be a 3-unit play. But because there are so many new combinations in both teams, I am going to stick with a smaller play on the Blues.

State of Origin Game 1: Predicted score

NSW 28
Queensland 12

State of Origin Game 1: Suggested bet

Bet 2 units on NSW -8.0: Currently $1.93 with TopSport

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