State of Origin Tips & Preview – Game 1

Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over both states in preparation for Wednesday night with his State of Origin tips for Game 1 of the 2022 series.

Blues Maroons
James Tedesco 1 Kalyn Ponga
Brian To’o 2 Selwyn Cobbo
Kotoni Staggs 3 Val Holmes
Jack Wighton 4 Dane Gagai
Daniel Tupou 5 Xavier Coates
Jarome Luai 6 Cameron Munster
Nathan Cleary 7 Daly Cherry-Evans
Payne Haas 8 Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Damien Cook 9 Ben Hunt
Junior Paulo 10 Josh Papalii
Cameron Murray 11 Kurt Capewell
Tariq Sims 12 Felise Kaufusi
Isaah Yeo 13 Reuben Cotter
Stephen Crichton 14 Harry Grant
Liam Martin 15 Lindsay Collins
Reagan Campbell-Gillard 16 Pat Carrigan
Ryan Matterson 17 Jeremiah Nanai


History:
Played 123, New South Wales 56, Queensland 65

Last Meeting: Game 3, 2021: Queensland 20 def. New South Wales 18

Final Thoughts: The New South Wales Blues have named a strong side to defend the State of Origin shield following their 2-1 series win in 2021. They kicked things off with a 50-0 thrashing in Game 1 before sealing the series in Game 2. The Queensland Maroons responded with a win in Game 3 but it was too little too late. With Billy Slater now in charge and coaching his first series, the Maroons are looking to bounce back from last year’s efforts and emulate more of the grit and grind approach that triggered one of the greatest upsets of all time when they won the 2020 series.

Both Slater and Brad Fittler have taken a handful of risks in their team lists. Debutants out wide will be tested defensively. However, closer to the middle where the game is often won and loss, New South Wales and Queensland are named roughly as expected.

The series was all but over in an hour last season. Expect a much tighter contest this time around, though.

Queensland Closing The Gap

The Blues won the opening two games 76-6 last year. To make matters worse for the Maroons at the time, all three State of Origin games were played in Queensland due to Covid restrictions. Back to the usual split of one home game each and the third outside of New South Wales and Queensland, the Maroons need to start the series well with the Suncorp match not coming until Game 3. Should the series head to Brisbane level at 1-1, it would be difficult not to back the Maroons to win it.

However, a lot needs to happen before then and it starts with keeping Game 1 close at the very least. That is the expectation with the line set at 3.5 for the opener. The Blues enter as $1.60 and -3.5 favourites to the Maroons’ $2.35.

Expect a fairly typical State of Origin grind to start this one. Despite running up 94 points across three games in the previous series, the Blues didn’t cross the line before the 10th minute in any of the three games. There is always a feeling-out period in these fixtures. Points are at a premium and neither side will want to make the first error and provide the opposition with an early opportunity. It will be tight, direct and low risk to start. From there, it comes down to how well the Queensland edge can close down what is expected to be a more expansive New South Wales attack. Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell aren’t there to cause havoc in the centres but Fittler is unlikely to instruct his side to play much different. Kotoni Staggs, Jack Wighton and Stephen Crichton can all cause havoc of their own even if it isn’t quite at the level of variation of Trbojevic and Mitchell.

If the Maroons can hold up defensively and keep within touching distance heading into the final quarter on the road, the Blues will come under all sorts of pressure. Given their dominance last year, this team doesn’t have a lot of positive experience in close games.

Points & Where They’re Coming From

As is often the case to start a series, the Points Total is at a relatively low 36.5 points.

Daniel Tupou was selected for what he offers in the air so the expectation is for him to see the ball early on in this one. He’s the $9 favourite to score first ($2.12 anytime). Nathan Cleary is likely to be the one chipping the ball over to the lanky winger. On the left side, Jarome Luai ($26/$5.25) will work his NRL combination with Brian To’o ($9.25/$2.10). While Fittler has named Jack Wighton ($14/$3) to start in the centres, it won’t be a surprise to see him move back to the more suitable spot as bench utility with Stephen Crichton ($13/$2.80) named to start alongside his Panthers teammates.

For Queensland, much has already been made about the impact Selwyn Cobbo ($10.50/$2.30) and Xavier Coates ($10.50/$2.30) can have on this one. Fittler is so concerned about the pair of high-fliers that he has selected Tupou in direct response to what the Queensland pair offer in the air. Is there an opportunity for a double bluff here, though? Daly Cherry-Evans, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt and Harry Grant all offer strong kicking games close to the line. Rolling one in behind the line rather than hanging the ball in the air brings Kurt Capewell ($31/$6.50) and Felise Kaufusi ($34/$7.25) into consideration.

State of Origin 1 Tip

The expectation is for the Maroons to be much-improved on the last series. Their side looks a lot more balanced this time around and Slater’s influence is sure to help. However, the Blues are favourites for a reason. The cohesion they have developed in recent series along with that of the Panthers players scattered throughout the side helps more than most give credit. Isaah Yeo is in superb form and effectively provides the Blues with another half alongside Cleary and Luai. The benefit of playing together every week can’t be understated.

Fittler’s pack is strong and boasts the yardage of Payne Haas and Reagan Campbell-Gillard with the ball playing of Yeo, Junior Paulo and Ryan Matterson. The Blues can play straight, short and long depending on what the Queensland defence gives them.

The two teams are closer together to start the series, but the series starts in Sydney. Home ground advantage has often provided a telling boost in these close series and should help the Blues over the line in the opener.

Tip: Handicap – Blues -3.5 @ $1.90