New South Wales v Queensland Maroons @ ANZ Stadium – 7:10 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Blues: Desperation and a handful of injuries have forced Brad Fittler into changes this week. Most notably, Cody Walker replaces Luke Keary in the halves. Boyd Cordner and Cameron Murray have also been forced out, replaced by Angus Crichton and Payne Haas in the starting side. Nathan Brown, Isaah Yeo and Dale Finucane join the bench.
- Maroons: AJ Brimson and Chrisitan Welch have been ruled out with Valentine Holmes into fullback and Dunamis Lui to make his Origin debut at prop. Moeaki Fotuaika takes Jaydn Su’A’s spot on the bench with the backrower elevated into the starting side in favour of Coen Hess.
Blues – Finding Cohesion
The likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis had plenty to do with Queensland’s recent dominance. They’re four of the best players the game has ever seen. But the cohesion that was built around them for the best part of a decade is an underappreciated aspect of Queensland’s greatness. “Pick and stick” is now talked about as a genuine team selection tactic. In truth, it’s easy to pick and stick with the players they had available throughout the period.
“A clunky performance from a new-look halves pairing finding their feet together is one of the few hurdles the Blues need to leap to ensure victory in Game 1.” – State of Origin Game 1 Preview
The Blues will now change their halves pairing for the sixth consecutive match with Cody Walker replacing Luke Keary. While the Blues matched the Maroons in yardage (1,914m v 1,852m), played with the same amount of possession (50% – 30:08 minutes) and scored the same number of tries (3) in Game 1, they lacked polish. Keary and Nathan Cleary struggled to work together and a lack of game plan outside of being the better team on paper and waiting to go ahead saw the Blues crumble into a heap. When the going got tough, New South Wales looked lost. A lack of cohesion was clear.
Walker is now tasked with working alongside Cleary. The Panthers halfback is still without a try assist in his six-game State of Origin career. Try assists aren’t the only measure of an elite halfback, but in closely contested games that are won by making the most of limited opportunities, Cleary has yet to consistently provide. That’s where Walker comes in following a dangerous-looking 19 minutes off the bench in Game 1. He’s in superb form and offers more raw attack than Keary.
Rather than Keary and Cleary trying to work Roosters and Panthers-like structures into the Blues attack, Walker can be given the ball and be put to work. Things happen around Walker when he’s in this sort of form. Cleary, meanwhile, can be more patient with his 70+ touches per game in the more traditional halfback role. Keary isn’t the reason the Blues lost in Game 1, but Walker gives them a better chance of winning Game 2 if the squad can iron out some of the cohesion kinks.
Maroons – More of the same
We should have known Wayne Bennett would be able to cook something up in Game 1. It was all laid out on the table for everybody to see. Still, the Blues went into the game as heavy favourites. Bennett’s team had been told all week that they’re the worst Queensland side in Origin history. If there is one coach that can use that sort of commentary in his favour, it’s Bennett. He inspired his 17 players to outperform every expectation put on them to win a game many thought would never be in reach.
Now the tough part: doing it again.
Bennett doesn’t have the negative soundbites in the media to fire up his side. Those are all for Fittler and the Blues who have been hammered from pillar to post since the final siren sounded. Instead, Bennett will be assuring his side that they can do it again despite facing a tougher challenge this time around given the forced changes. Dunamis Lui, in particular, is a surprise inclusion.
Lui is in the best form of his career. New-found maturity and consistency saw him average a career-high 91 running metres per game for the Raiders in 2020 as the Green Machine came to rely on his tough carries alongside Josh Papalii.
Queensland enters Game 2 as rank outsiders ($3.40) despite the Game 1 win. They will be out to do much of the same to recreate the same result in Game 2. They laid the platform in the opener just as they needed to before a couple of adjustments at halftime translated into 18 points across the second 40 minutes. It took some time for Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster to work things out as their attempts at early shifts in the first half often resulted in dropped balls or disjointed movements. But unlike their counterparts in the same numbers, the Maroons halves were able to make the adjustments on the fly.
The Blues will be better prepared for this do-or-die Game 2. However, the Maroons have the winning formula already. They just need to recreate it on Wednesday night to cause a boil over and win the 2020 State of Origin series.
Cody Walker ($18 – Top Sport) is going to generate plenty of attention in his return to the run-on side for Game 2. He stood out as the Blues most dangerous attacking threat in Game 1, although, some of that will have been due to the role he played outside of the halves. Xavier Coates ($13 – SportsBet) will also command interest as he runs at a Blues left edge that struggled defensively last week. Jack Wighton, in particular, missed seven tackles for just a 52.6% tackle efficiency on the night. As far as the roughies go, Lui’s $101 to score the opener is an enticing prospect following a career-high two tries this season.
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Daly Cherry-Evans ($12 – TopSport) managed to snare the Man of the Match award in Game 1 and is at $12 to do the same in Game 2. Perhaps a product of leading the Maroons in running metres (164m) rather than being the best player on the field, Cherry-Evans will need to do something special to wrap up the award again on Wednesday. Like last week, a Blues contingent makes up the favourites. James Tedesco ($5.50 – TopSport) would likely have ended up as the Man of the Match in Game 1 had his side finished on top. He was at his destructive best for 300 metres and six tackle breaks and is the favourite for Game 2.