ICYMI, on Thursday the @NRL - National Rugby League released the 2018 #NRLDraw.
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You'd have to be living in a parallel universe if you were oblivious to the controversies surrounding the opening clash of Season 2004's State of Origin Series.
Whilst injuries to key personnel in both camps, and a couple of unsavory incidents have negatively impacted upon League's greatest rivalry, I for one am ready to put it aside and get on with watching a great game of footy.
It's hard to pick a winner this game, but there seems to be a common theme running through the first encounter for this year. Both teams have a number of rookies entering their respective sides, all possessing skill, speed and strength befitting of the Origin Arena.
Rhys Wesser finally cracks the fullback spot for his home state. The Penrith custodian has been nothing short of an excitement machine out west for the Panthers. With Lockyer's move to five-eighth, the position was available and it seems justice was served when last year's leading try-scorer was picked. After a somewhat quiet start to the year, every Queenslander out there will be hoping he explodes out of the box come Wednesday night.
After serving an apprenticeship at the Storm, Billy Slater gets a call up to the big time and he'll relish the opportunity. Although sometimes questionable in defense, Slater has blinding pace and a freakish step that can tear sides apart if unchecked.
Scott Prince would no doubt be under the most pressure of all debutants. The established No. 7 will partner Chris Flannery in the halves following the loss of Darren Lockyer at five-eighth. Prince has plenty of ability and is showing good form for club side the Wests Tigers. If he can step up, Queensland will go a long way to winning.
Big Ben Ross comes onto the bench and can probably think himself a bit lucky now that Gorden Tallis has retired from rep footy. Following their much publicised stink early last year, the barbs have kept flying between the two firebrand forwards. But Ross won't let that bother him and I'm sure the Raging Bull will be happy if he bashes a few Cockroaches.
Also on debut for Queensland is new coach Michael Hagan. A very well respected club coach at Newcastle, "Hages" has taken on the role after Wayne Bennett made the transition from State duties to International level earlier in the year. Hagan has been assistant to Bennett for the past two years, so it won't all be new to him. He's coming up against Phil Gould, who has the most successful record of any State of Origin coach, and following his announcement to retire at the conclusion of this Series, I'm sure Hagan will have plenty to contend with.
Turning our attention to New South Wales, and the Blues have six young bucks starting in their first Origin match.
St George Illawarra fullback Ben Hornby managed to wrest control of the number 1 jumper from incumbent Anthony Minichello, who was subsequently dumped from the team. Hornby is the NRL's safest fullback statistically and has been recently opening his shoulders at club level and really starting to make an impact in attack as well.
Massive Penrith winger Luke Rooney is in the number two guernsey out on the left flank. I just love this bloke. Big, fast, strong and can he jump! Two try hero from last year's Grand Final and he'll be looking to get involved at every opportunity. His best mate, Luke Lewis, lines up on the other side of the park as he makes his first venture in the sky blue. Lewis is another exciting player from the Penrith club who possesses good ball skills, pace and the ability to read a game well. Equally at home in the centres, Lewis will surely figure in coach Gould's victory plans and goes into the team having the experience of last year's Kangaroo Tour to his name.
Canberra prop Ryan "Rhino" O'Hara gets a call up after years of toiling in the Nation's Capital. A strong performer with a high work rate, O'Hara will revel in the intense atmosphere that is State of Origin.
Finally we get to the NSW bench, which sees two of the game's bright young forwards picked to warm it for the first 20 minutes. Brent Kite has very much come from the clouds here. His first rep honours were off the bench for Country a couple of weeks ago and he really impressed. Since moving to the front row this season he has been in outstanding form for the Dragons. A big-bopper weighing in at 105kgs and standing a cool 190cm, Kite should be up to the task for the Blues now that he seems to have weeded handling problems out of his game.
Trent Waterhouse is the last of the rookies to get a call up to the squad. Although he's played three Tests for the Kangaroo's, Waterhouse will still need to find another gear to step up at the Origin scene. And step up he will. This bloke is a good old-fashioned belter who will no doubt get amongst some of the dirtier work to be done out there on Wednesday night. He's odds-on to put a big hit on one of the Queensland forwards.
Well, there it is. This game should be a real cracker and with the officials tipping a crowd around the 60,000 mark, I'm sure it will be a great spectacle that we've come to expect from the hardest contest on earth - State Of Origin.
The full team lists are below:
1. RHYS WESSER (Penrith) Age: 25 Hgt: 174cm Wgt: 85kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
2. JUSTIN HODGES (Sydney Roosters) Age: 22 Hgt: 190cm Wgt: 98kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
3. PAUL BOWMAN (North Queensland) Age: 28 Hgt: 185cm Wgt: 98kg Origins: 7 Tests: Nil.
4. BRENT TATE (Brisbane) Age: 22 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 86kg Origins: 4 Tests: 3
5. BILLY SLATER (Melbourne) Age: 20 Hgt: 179cm Wgt: 87kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
6. CHRIS FLANNERY (Sydney Roosters) Age: 23 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 98kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
7. SCOTT PRINCE (Wests Tigers) Age: 24 Hgt: 178cm Wgt: 82kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
8. SHANE WEBCKE (Brisbane - captain) Age: 29 Hgt: 183cm Wgt: 112kg Origins: 18 Tests: 14
9. CAMERON SMITH (Melbourne) Age: 20 Height: 184cm Weight: 83kg Origins: 1 Tests: Nil
10. STEVE PRICE (Bulldogs) Age: 30 Hgt: 193cm Wgt: 101kg Origins: 13 Tests: 4
11. MICHAEL CROCKER (Sydney Roosters) Age: 23 Hgt: 187cm Wgt: 100kg Origins: 2 Tests: 4
12. DANE CARLAW (Brisbane) Age: 24 Hgt: 192cm Wgt: 107kg Origins: 8 Tests: 6
13. TONIE CARROLL (Brisbane) Age: 28 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 103kg Origins: 11 Tests: 5 for NZ
14. BEN ROSS (Penrith) Age: 23 Hgt: 195cm Wgt: 112kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
15. PETERO CIVONICEVA (Brisbane) Age: 28 Hgt: 193cm Wgt: 110kg Origins: 8 Tests: 8
16. TRAVIS NORTON (North Queensland) Age: 28 Hgt: 180cm Wgt: 96kg Origins: 4 Tests: Nil
17. MATT BOWEN (North Queensland) Age: 22 Hgt: 175cm Wgt: 78kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
Coach: MICHAEL HAGAN (Newcastle) NEW SOUTH WALES
1. BEN HORNBY (St George Illawarra) Age: 24 Hgt: 182cm Wgt: 86kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
2. LUKE ROONEY (Penrith) Age: 21 Hgt: 192cm Wgt: 98kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
3. MICHAEL DEVERE (Brisbane) Age: 27 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 96kg Origins: 4 Tests: 3.
4. MATT GIDLEY (Newcastle) Age: 26 Hgt: 185cm Wgt: 92kg Origins: 9 Tests: 11.
5. LUKE LEWIS (Penrith) Age: 20 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 94kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
6. SHAUN TIMMINS (St George Illawarra) Age: 27 Hgt: 184cm Wgt: 97kg Origins: 7 Tests: 5.
7. CRAIG GOWER (Penrith) Age: 26 Hgt: 174cm Wgt: 89kg Origins: 3 Tests: 7.
8. MARK O'MELEY (Bulldogs) Age: 23 Hgt: 180cm Wgt: 100kg Origins: 4 Tests: Nil
9. DANNY BUDERUS (Newcastle - captain) Age: 26 Hgt: 178cm Wgt: 91kg Origins: 6 Tests: 12.
10. RYAN O'HARA (Canberra) Age: 23 Hgt: 188cm Wgt: 104kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
11. ANDREW RYAN (Bulldogs) Age: 25 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 105kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
12. NATHAN HINDMARSH (Parramatta) Age: 24 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 107kg Origins: 4 Tests: 1.
13. CRAIG FITZGIBBON (Sydney Roosters) Age: 26 Hgt: 192cm Wgt: 104kg Origins: 2 Tests: 5.
14. WILLIE MASON (Bulldogs) Age: 24 Hgt: 195cm Wgt: 115kg Origins: 1 Tests: 7.
15. BRENT KITE (St George Illawarra) Age: 23 Hgt: 190cm Wgt: 105kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil
16. TRENT WATERHOUSE (Penrith) Age: 23 Hgt: 193cm Wgt: 107kg Origins: Nil Tests: 3.
17. CRAIG WING (Sydney Roosters) Age: 24 Hgt: 180cm Wgt: 86kg Origins: 3 Tests: 6.
Coach: PHIL GOULD (Sydney Roosters Coaching Director)