PREVIEW: 2023 State of Origin I

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New South Wales v Queensland Wednesday 8:05pm at Adelaide Oval, Adelaide / Kaurna

Stage set for a vital series

Well, it's back. State of Origin is here everyone and it promises to be quite the series with so many storylines to follow and track. The 2023 State of Origin series gets underway when New South Wales take on Queensland from Adelaide Oval.

New South Wales have had a mixed Origin record of recent times. After winning his first two series in charge, Brad Fittler has only won one subsequent series since and even that was due to their success in the PVL rule changes of 2021. However, the Blues come into this campaign determined to write the wrongs of last year's horror decider with a strong series opener in the city of Churches. 

Onto the part of the series that gets everyone talking, and that is team selection. Fittler has gone with an experienced side but some bolters thrown in for good measure. Josh Addo-Carr wins a recall after his surprise omission last year. After a strong performance against Canberra, Tommy Turbo is deemed ready for take-off, as is Panthers half Jarome Luai and Souths gun Latrell Mitchell (the latter missing last year's series). Api Koroisau wins his chance at hooker over Damien Cook. Tevita Pangai Jr makes his Origin debut as he is parachuted straight into the run on team, starting with Payne Haas. Hudson Young and Tyson Frizell are the surprise winners of starting edge spots with Cam Murray and Liam Martin reverting to the bench along with Nicho Hynes and Junior Paulo. 

This backline is the exact same as the side that won in 2021, with it's distinctive qualities of having metre eaters out of yardage as well as the flare that can finish off attacking opportunities. NSW fell short in that area hard, Fittler will be hoping a return of continuity will spark the Blues. However, where this side falls short for me, is their forward stocks. The absence of Jake Trbojevic is a big blow after his strong defensive efforts so it's up to the newcomers to capitalise on their opportunities. TPJ is an interesting pick considering his explosive temper, when it's used well he's a game breaker, but if QLD get under his skin, then he might be sitting the game in the sheds.
Onto last year's victors in the Sunshine State with Billy Slater returning after a victorious first series as QLD coach. The Maroons have thrived under the radar as the Blues have been overwhelming favourites in the Origin arena, this year is a little difference with a higher expectation on them after last year's shock series victory. 

Onto the team selection. Slater has earnt the right to back his judgement in the wake of the series win last year and he's made some big selection calls. Kalyn Ponga and Dane Gagai have been sacrificed for the in-form Reece Walsh and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. Ponga's omission was a surprise considering his strong Origin form last year, but after yet another concussion scare on the weekend, Slater is taking no chances. Ben Hunt starts with Harry Grant being the energiser bunny on the bench. Felise Kaufusi's suspension forces a start for Tom Gilbert on the edge which is surprising as he's played in the middle all year for the expansion club, while David Fifita replaces an injured Kurt Capewell. QLD have opted for the power game with Tino, Arrow and Cotter on the bench joining Tom Flegler and Lindsay Collins starting.

Queensland's obvious strength in the forwards is nullified by a perceived weakness in the backs. Their main challenge is keeping Latrell and Tommy at bay for the full 80. There's no doubt that they'll get good consistent early football in the red-zone, so a lot of pressure will be on the QLD edges in defence. Elsewhere, QLD have the strength of having two hookers where the Blues have opted for having Hynes as the Mr Fix It. Grant will be a perfect foil and tire out an already weakened NSW pack.

Last meeting: 2022 Game III - Maroons 22 Blues 12, Suncorp Stadium

Who to watch: Having had to work harder then ever to win his NSW jersey, all pressure is on Penrith's Jarome Luai heading into the Origin opener. Despite a quiet opening to 2023, Luai has bounced back in the last fortnight with match winning efforts against contenders like the Roosters and Broncos. Setting up three tries and scoring one of his own, Luai's slick foot work will create all sorts of problems for QLD's pack of forwards. His combinations from 2021 will also be key to watch in this Origin opener.

Turning attention to QLD, the focus is on the man that beat KP for the 1 jumper. Reece Walsh burst out of the gates with a strong start to 2023. Walsh's attacking creativity cannot be understated with 4 tries and 13 try assists. With so much effort needed to stop DCE and Munster, Walsh could slip through the cracks and cause all sorts of problems, like Ponga did in the 2022 series. 

Favourite: NSW are slight favourites with the bookies. Last time Origin was in Adelaide, QLD won 18-14.

My tip:  I think this one is contrasting fortunes, both sides have clear positional wins over the other. But the side that is most complete and out-performs the other will come out with the victory. Origin has a knack of bringing out the unexpected, so ANYTHING could happen. On the neutral turf of Adelaide, it has the making of a great Origin opener. Heart says NSW, but my head has a narrow QLD victory. QLD by 2

1. James Tedesco 2. Brian To'o 3. Stephen Crichton 4. Tom Trbojevic 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Tevita Pangai Junior 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Payne Haas 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Hudson Young 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Junior Paulo 15. Cameron Murray 16. Liam Martin 17. Nicho Hynes 20. Matt Burton

1. Reece Walsh 2. Selwyn Cobbo 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 15. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 9. Ben Hunt 16. Reuben Cotter 11. Tom Gilbert 12. David Fifita 13. Patrick Carrigan 8. Thomas Flegler 10. Lindsay Collins 14. Harry Grant 17. Jai Arrow 18. Tom Dearden

Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Drew Oultram, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Grant Atkins;

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