Will Townsville prove to be the difference in State of Origin Game 1?

This article was first written for and published by the Roar.

After much debate and discussion it’s finally here; State of Origin Game 1. Following the disruption of last year, particularly the scheduling of one of the games on the same night as the US election, I’m thoroughly looking forward to the game tonight.

For some fans, the venue is something worth complaining about, but for me, the decision to move the game to Townsville is genius.

As a New South Welshman, of course my preference would be that Queensland do not have two home games during this series. Despite that, I understand the need to have moved this game due to the COVID-19 pandemic and I think Townsville is a sensational choice.

There’s no question the people of Townsville absolutely love their rugby league.

Sometimes we forget just how big Australia is, particularly Queensland. I know that there are many people from far-north Queensland that travel hours just to see the Cowboys play.

I know the same will be true for this Game 1 fixture with tickets effectively sold out and people coming from across the state to watch. The grounds staff are working hard to add additional grandstand seating and the only way to even get close to a ticket now is to join a waitlist.

The hotels are booked out and many people booked accommodation at exorbitant prices. Townsville is booming and it’s a wonderful opportunity for fans who might not normally get to see a State of Origin fixture to be part of one of rugby league’s greatest rivalries.

My only concern as a Blues fan is whether the move to Townsville could prove to be the difference between the Blues winning and losing.

There’s something about Queenslanders and State of Origin. It seems to mean more to them up north than it does here in NSW and I can guarantee that almost every single fan in Townsville will be wearing maroon.

The Blues could not be walking into a more hostile environment.

I don’t think there is any doubt that NSW is the stronger team on paper, particularly when you look at the backline. Tom Trbojevic is the in-form player in the competition right now and he hasn’t even been selected in his preferred position, given the selection of captain James Tedesco.

Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary are the best halves pairing in the competition too.

The weaknesses in this team (if any) are in the forward pack and also as a result of some of the strange selection decisions that Brad Fittler has made. I’m still surprised at the choice of Jake Trbojevic at prop and the decision to have Jack Wighton coming off the bench.

Brad Fittler

Has Freddie got it right? (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

I also have some questions about this team. Like whether Payne Haas will play big minutes (my view is that Haas always performs better in Origin the more minutes he plays).

I’m also curious to see how Fittler uses his bench and to see whether if Cameron Murray does play on the left edge, whether he can give the backline the space and ball that they need.

But for me there’s no doubt that if NSW are to win the game, the key will be matching it with Queensland in the forwards, because that is where Queensland have the edge.

Their pack consists of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Christian Welch and David Fifita and Felise Kaufusi on the edges. That’s certainly not a pack that I would want to come up against.

Last year’s Queensland team was called ‘the worst Queensland team of all time’. That team managed to win the series.
This year, the team is as strong as possible given the players Queensland had to choose from.

But what is peculiar to me about this Queensland team is that Ben Hunt has not been selected as the number 14. That place has instead been filled by AJ Brimson.

Hunt is a player that has been criticised, particularly at club level, but he is someone that has stepped up in the Origin arena.

By naming him as the number 14, this gives Queensland greater versatility and gives Hunt permission to play a roaming role once he gets on the field.

Even though NSW may be the better team on paper, we know that State of Origin isn’t won on paper.

Could two home games be enough to give Queensland the edge again this year? We’ll soon find out.

I just hope that should NSW lose that there isn’t any blame placed on Brian To’o or Luai. Criticism of the two players emerged late last week after a video emerged of them dancing to K-Pop, accusing them of not taking the game seriously enough.

Sometimes I wonder whether as rugby league fans we really know what we want; we ask players to have character but then when they show it too us, some fans are highly critical.

The Blues have the team to win this game but are going to have to overcome an extremely hostile crowd to do so.