The 2020 rugby league season takes yet another turn, with the State of Origin series being played entirely at the end of the season for the first time in its 40-year history. It will take place over 3-consecutive weeks in the traditional Wednesday evening timeslot, with players required to either continue or re-enter the ‘NRL bubble’ at the conclusion of their club campaign. Game 1 will head to Adelaide, with the fixture being played at the famous Adelaide Oval. Just like the regular season, it remains uncertain as to how players will respond and what other outcomes impact the result.
Adelaide Oval, Wednesday 4th November
Undergoing a massive ‘change’ ahead of the series, the Maroons will not only begin with a new coaching partnership in Wayne Bennett and Mal Meniga, but they have decided to name 8 debutants for this match. Their backline looks vulnerable to say the least, with Coates and Lee on one edge and Gagai and Sami on the other. They will rely heavily on the partnership of Daly Cherry-Evans and Munster in the halves; their effectiveness will come down to how the forward pack responds.
The naming of Friend at hooker is interesting; he deserves his shot but many would argue that Harry Grant or Ben Hunt would’ve added a more dynamic dimension to their attack. Big forwards like Welch, Papalii, Kefusi and Faasuamaleaui will need to set a strong platform. Once this starts, the bench players will have a tough time of maintain this standard as it appears as though there is a significant drop in quality. That can be said of the entire squad but history shows that you should never underestimate a Maroons team.
Not many surprises in this team; Fittler made the decision to go with Keary at 5/8 to partner Cleary in the halves, ahead of Walker, who lands a bench spot and will no doubt add a spark when he enters the match. Gutherson has been rewarded for a strong club season by being named in the centres; although, you can expect plenty of pressure to be sent his way early on.
The forward pack is very strong and will be well supported off the bench. There is a sense that the Blues will look to play a ‘fast’ game in the pack, with Cook leading the way at hooker and relying on the mobile forwards to set this up with a quick ruck speed.
Of the 119 matches played, the Maroons have the edge with 62 wins, with two matches ending up as a draw. In the past 5 Game 1 fixtures; NSW have won just 2/5 and the average winning margin has been 8.2 points. Only once (2017) has the margin been beyond 10-points (NSW 28-4). NSW had the home ground advantage in 3/5 of those matches. For the First Try Scorer, NSW players scored first in 4/5 matches with Cordner (2016) being the only forward to score first. 3/5 players came from players in the spine (Tedesco 2018, Maloney 2017 & Cronk 2015).
Even though tries were scored, a penalty goal has been the First Scoring play in 3/5 matches, with NSW taking that option twice (2018 & 2019). Perhaps the option of early points on the board and placing the opponent under scoreboard pressure is a priority. Finally, of the past 3 Origin matches which have been taken away from the ‘traditional’ home ground of NSW or QLD, the Blues have won all 3 (Game 2 2015, Game 1 2018 & Game 2 2019). In these 3 fixtures, the Blues have won by 8 points (2015), 10 points (2018) and 32 points (2019).
It is hard to see how the Maroons will win this match. The Blues have the edge in majority of areas and even with the Queensland strengths (halves & big forward pack), they appear to counter this with a different approach to the game (explosive, roaming halves & a mobile pack). It is no surprise that the Blues are listed as $1.35 favourites with an 8.5 line posted. As mentioned above, Game 1 encounters are traditionally tight matches, as each team sets a standard that they hope to build on going forward. However, with the changes to the rules this year, it works in the Blues favour and lends itself to a free-flowing contest.
There are too many question marks of this Maroons team but, as mentioned earlier, you can never completely count out a player when they put on that jersey. The picture will become clearer after this match but the quality that this team once possessed is now overshadowed by a new generation of NSW players desperate to restore their dominance. It is hard to see anything else other than a dominating NSW win, albeit, after a close start with both sides trading early blows.
As mentioned above, spine players have scored 3 out of the past 5 tries first. Given the changes in rules, it is difficult to land on a player with any confidence. For the Maroons, Gagai is proven at this level and even secured MOM honours in Game 1 last year. If he gets close to the line, his preference will be to hold the ball and back his ability. For value, Daly Cherry-Evans support play and confidence close to the line gives him an opportunity anywhere on the field.
For the Blues, their wingers know how to finish attacking movements and dominate in the air. The latter is more potent with the accurate kicking game of both their halves. They will look to move the ball from one edge to the other and Tupou has the slight edge of Ado-Carr based on how they will use his height. For value (and similar to the Maroons), both halves possess the same qualities of support play and taking the line on as Daly Cherry-Evans. Both are worth thought; Cleary has the slight edge over Keary ($17) as he finished the season strongly and has a high level of confidence to take the line on.
In the past 5 Game 1 encounters, forwards have been selected as MOM. This is probably because the contests have been close and the game has been won/loss in this area. It is worth keeping this in mind, but selecting players based on how the match will play out. With the class that he possess and given how well he has played at the back end of the season, Cook ($11) is worth plenty of thought. Tedesco ($5) is the favourite but there is a lack of confidence in him following an injury at the end of the NRL season. For the Maroons, they will rely heavily on DCE and Munster (both $11) to win this match for them; they are leading the way in this market for their team, with DCE having the edge given his role as halfback.
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