2022-06-08 08:03:00

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One of the most anticipated State of Origin series in years begins on Wednesday night with Brad Fittler’s NSW Blues expected to face an almighty challenge from Queensland in their bid to retain the shield.

The Blues have won three out of the past four series but their dominance looks under threat from a Maroons side bursting with talent and helmed by state legend Billy Slater in his first series as coach.

It’s expected to be a windy and wild affair in front of a confirmed sold-out crowd at Sydney’s Accor Stadium for Game 1. Follow the latest news throughout the day, and all the action tonight, below.

Match centre: Blues vs Maroons, teams, scores, updates, videos

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GAME 1 BURNING QUESTIONS: QLD ‘elephant in the room’ Blues will attack; can Fittler overcome star void?

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Ultimate Guide and start time

Blues & Maroons ready for Origin Game I | 02:48

STAGG’S COBBO INSIGHT

Blues centre Kotoni Staggs has given Brad Fittler’s side the inside scoop on Broncos teammate Selwyn Cobbo.

The 20-year-old Maroons winger is set to take the field in one of the most daunting debuts in Stage of Origin history.

Fittler said the Blues would “absolutely” be testing the young gun’s aerial abilities, with playmakers Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai to target him with their elite kicking game.

Meanwhile, Staggs suggested he had outlined Cobbo’s weaknesses to his Origin teammates.

“Everyone has a weakness in their game, and it’s up to the opposition to find it,” Staggs said to the SMH.

“I’ve played alongside him for most of the year. There are a few things that stand out to me that I have told my mates here, so whatever happens, happens.”

Despite hoping to exploit the young winger in certain aspects of his game, Fittler still marvelled at his talents.

“It’s a shame he’s playing for the other side because he’s so good to watch. He’s wild, he’s strong, fast and energetic. It will be great to see him under pressure,” Fittler said.

LEGEND’S PRAISE FOR ‘TOUGH LITTER BUGGER’ COTTER

Queensland Maroons legend and assistant Cameron Smith is tipping emerging cult hero Reuben Cotter to make a big impact on his debut Origin appearance.

Asked on Wednesday to identify a player that had impressed him in camp, Smith singled out the tireless 23-year-old North Queensland forward who forced his way into the squad with a string of outstanding performances this season.

“I’ve been really impressed by Reuben Cotter. I really have, I really have. You were probably thinking I was going to say Selwyn Cobbo,” Smith said.

“He’s a guy that’s quite small in stature … but he is a tough little bugger and he reminds me of a guy that I played alongside in these colours, Dallas Johnson.

“I’m really excited about what he’s going to bring to this footy side tonight and I’m sure he’s in for a big one.”

All smooth sailing for Maroons | 12:50

SERIES OPENER SET TO ERUPT

Following the NRL’s changes to judiciary charges in representative matches, tonight’s series opener is set to bring back the biff.

Instead of suspending players for on-field misconduct, players will receive hefty fines which is welcome news for club teams who would suffer without star players.

While Origin will never have all-in brawls erupt again like in years gone by, players can now show more aggression with the scope for grade one and grade two offences widened.

Blues hooker Damien Cook explained that players will be happy to pay for their on-field discretions as opposed to miss games.

“You never want to lose money, do you?” Cook said to the SMH.

“But some players would be happy to not miss a club game and pay their way out of it.”

WIGHTON LOCKED IN TO START AS QLD REVEAL GRANT ROLE

NSW Blues assistant Greg Alexander has confirmed Jack Wighton will start in the centres as named amid continued speculation Brad Fittler could make a late switch.

Canberra’s star Wighton’s surprise selection ahead of Penrith’s Stephen Crichton has prompted speculation about who will really start but Alexander said only a Covid issue would force the Blues into late changes.

Alexander stressed the selection was about making use of Crichton’s versatility.

“Stephen can play fullback, centre, anywhere on the field really, he’s that talented,” Alexander said on Wednesday.

“Stephen is on the bench to cover the loss of any outside back and depending on how the game’s going we can throw him on anywhere.

“He wasn’t put on the bench because we didn’t think he was ready to start. He was put on the bench for those reasons.”

Brandy confirms Wighton at centre | 08:59

Meanwhile Smith gave an ominous update on how the Maroons will use X-factor star Harry Grant, suggesting the Storm No.9 will see big minutes including playing at the same time as Dally M leader Ben Hunt who will start the game at hooker.

“Billy’s got a plan around when Harry will come onto the field but I think he’s going to see a lot of game time, there’s no doubt about that,” Smith said.

“We feel that’s a really good position that we’re in having someone like that on the bench.

“… Ben Hunt’s trained all week at the No.9 position, that’s where he’ll start the game. He’ll take the sting out of the match for Harry and hopefully we’ll get some tired NSW players out there where we can tell Harry to get out there and run the football.

“… There’ll be a portion of the game where both players will be on the field, there’s no doubt about that. I think it’s hard to leave Ben Hunt off the field with the form that he’s in.”

‘WE NEED TO GET THE TAMENESS OUT OF ORIGIN

While there’s plenty of excitement about the 2022 series opener, there are also growing concerns about the relatively timid build-up to Origin in recent years.

This shapes as an intriguing series because of the talent on both sides but there has been few, if any, shots fired between camps in the build-up to Game 1 — a stark contrast to the ‘wild days’ where the hatred across the border seemed to be genuine.

NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent said a “gradual decline” in interest in the Origin product was becoming a serious problem — one the NRL has privately acknowledged — and called on the players to take responsibility for selling the occasion.

“We need to get the tameness out of Origin. The players are so disciplined and so desperate not to cause any motivation to the opposition that was get the most boring lead-ups,” Kent said on NRL 360.

“It’s time for the game to get out there and start selling itself again.

“… Rugby league has got to stop assuming that people are always going to be there and that Origin is always going to be that game. It was built on the back of these wildcats from Queensland coming in with a pure hatred for NSW where whatever they said about NSW they didn’t give a rat’s arse whether the Blues cared about it or not.

“They went after NSW and they set up the whole Origin mystique on the back of that.

“Now you get the impression if they ran into each other in a restaurant they’d all walk over and say g’day and sit down and share a meal together.”

Kent pointed to the example of Australian boxer George Kambosos attracting a crowd of more than 40,000 to Marvel Stadium on Sunday after he “lit a fuse” with his comments and antics in the build-up to the lightweight world title fight with Devin Haney.

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“I didn’t say I’ll think we’ll win!” | 05:05

Kent said Origin has “got to get back to the wild days where it’s actually something interesting coming out, rather than talk about processes and playing good footy.

“Even in the lead-up to the game, nobody says anything,” he said. “The last quote anybody can remember was when Paul Gallen was paid $20,000 by the NRL to liven it up so he came out and called them two heads which just set Queensland alight. The whole state just blew up.

“… The game has got to start educating these players, they’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg. They’re just putting us all to sleep through it all.

“The preparation and the coverage has never been more intense than what it is now and the players in response are pulling back. They need to understand their part in this, they are on $15,000 a game, they’re arguing now it should go back up to $30,000 a game yet what are they doing to help actually sell the game?”

An example of the cautious nature of pre-game banter was highlighted on The Back Page, which discussed Slater’s cagey answer when asked this week “why do you think you’ll win?”

“I didn’t say I think I’ll win,” Slater replied. “…I’d like to think that we’re going to play well.”

Former Blues star Bryan Fletcher said it may be a case that teams were now too concerned about not giving their opponents added information but Courier Mail journalist Robert Craddock said it was clear “a bit of chilli” was missing from Origin.

“I mean fire it up, this is Origin,” he said in reaction to Slater’s answer.

“That was half the fun. The rivalry of grenades getting thrown from one side of the border to the other. It’s the one time we can leave the top button undone.”

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