PREVIEW: Origin I, 2021

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New South Wales v Queensland Wednesday 8:10pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium

Like clockwork, there is an injury crisis in Queensland camp while New South Wales are rubbishing suggestions they are favourites.  

It can only mean one thing - Origin is upon us.  

Already there has been the first of what will be many controversies - the decision to play the opener at Townsville after a COVID-19 outbreak forced it to be moved from the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

Advantage Queensland. 

The Maroons have another advantage - a psychological one - having taken out last year's series despite being the overwhelming underdogs. 

This year there is no Wayne Bennett though, having relinquished the coaching reins to focus on South Sydney's premiership tilt.  

It leaves Paul Green as the man to motivate Queensland to glory while Brad Fittler will seek to right the wrongs of a failed 2020 campaign.  

Fittler has capitalised on Penrith's resounding success over the past two seasons to name six Panthers with Apisai Koroisau 18th man and the seventh if you count him.  

While Fittler said in the lead-up to selection that club combinations are not as important as they used to be, Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai's almost telepathic understanding of each other's game was enough to see them get the nod.  

If we look back in the history books, the Blues have ran out for 35 games with club halves combinations for 19 wins and 16 losses - so not much can be drawn from those numbers.  

Luai's selection at five-eighth bumps Jack Wighton to the bench, where he could fill in if an injury strikes in the backline.  

Otherwise, the only other surprise in the Blues line-up is the inclusion of Liam Martin for an injured Tyson Frizell on the bench.  

For Queensland, all eyes will be on Cameron Munster (foot) and Harry Grant (hamstring) with Kalyn Ponga (groin) already ruled out.

Valentine Holmes shifts to fullback while Kyle Feldt is set for his Origin debut on the wing.

AJ Brimson (bone bruising on knee) is also one to monitor although unlikely to be in as much doubt. 

Last meeting: Series 2020 - QLD 20 NSW 14

Who to watch: In a series brimming with intriguing individual match-ups, the one between Harry Grant and Damien Cook looms as the most exciting. Both are natural ball runners who were tipped to thrive in a fast-paced game under the new rules. While Grant has made an immediate impact for the Storm, Cook's performances have been mixed and even saw his place in the squad questioned by some. Cook thrives playing behind a dominant forward pack and he has not always had that at Souths this year. In the Origin arena though he will have no excuse and will need to be at his scheming best to give the NSW halves plenty of space and time to work with. That is particularly important given the strike the Blues have out wide with Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell both ball-playing options in the centres. Grant meanwhile was a standout in his Origin debut last year and his combination with Munster (if fit) looms as the biggest threat to the Blues. His pass selection at club land has also been spot on this season. For Grant it will be a case of carefully choosing when to take the line on and when a crash ball to his forwards is the better bet closer to the line. Cook has the advantage there in experience but Grant has constantly stepped up to the occasion and shown he is not afraid to back himself.

The favourite: The Blues are backed by the punters to get the job done in the opener.

My tip: On paper the Blues do have enough strike in the outside backs to put points on the Maroons but whether they capitalise on it will come down to the work of the spine. Queensland will likely try to unsettle Cleary and Luai early and remind them Origin is a different beast to club land. Points won't come as easy and building pressure instead will be key. That is somewhere Daly Cherry-Evans and Munster excelled last year and it could be the difference here too. Queensland by 4.

1. James Tedesco 2. Brian To'o 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Tom Trbojevic 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Damien Cook 10. Jake Trbojevic 11. Cameron Murray 12. Tariq Sims 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Jack Wighton 15. Junior Paulo 16. Payne Haas 17. Liam Martin 18. Apisai Koroisau 19. Campbell Graham

5. Valentine Holmes 2. Xavier Coates 3. Kurt Capewell 4. Dane Gagai 18. Kyle Feldt 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Christian Welch 9. Harry Grant 10. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. David Fifita 13. Jai Arrow 14. AJ Brimson 15. Jaydn Su'A 16. Moeaki Fotuaika 17. Joe Ofahengaue 20. Coen Hess 21. Ben Hunt

Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Todd Smith, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Ashley Klein;

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