ORIGIN I | NRL.com Preview
Queensland Maroons v NSW VB Blues
Suncorp Stadium, Wednesday, 31 May
It's been a defining characteristic from the first Origin match ever played when Arthur Beetson – perhaps egged on by 33,000 Queenslanders craving a pound of New South Wales flesh – put one on the chin of Parramatta teammate Mick Cronin.
Over the past 37 years we have been witness to all manner of brave acts in the Origin arena. Whether it was a 12-man Queensland team holding off the Blues in Game Two, 1989, Wayne Bennett calling back Allan Langer from the north of England for Game Three, 2001, Michael Devere having his head stapled back together on the Suncorp Stadium sideline in Game One, 2003 or Brett Finch kicking the winning field goal in Game One, 2006 after less than 24 hours in NSW camp each series throws up moments that define courage and sacrifice.
But bravery comes in many forms and if New South Wales are to prevent Queensland's dominance of the past 11 years extending into a 12th they need to trust that they can execute their skills under the most intense examination the game offers.
The preamble to this fixture has taken us down an all too familiar path as injuries and supposedly out-of-form Queensland players have seen those who play their Origins on paper declaring the Blues as clear-cut favourites.
Matt Scott, Greg Inglis and finally Johnathan Thurston are all absent; Nate Myles, Justin O'Neill, Aidan Guerra and Jacob Lillyman were lucky to get a start and a young player by the name of Anthony Milford is going to find out what it's like to play under the Origin spotlight.
Only once in the past 13 years has the opening game to an Origin series been decided by more than nine points and the past two have been decided by one and two points respectively.
It's pertinent to note that the Maroons have won those past two series-openers and eight of the past 13 and they would love nothing more than an 80-minute arm wrestle to begin the 2017 series.
Which is why the Blues must be brave. Andrew Fifita needs to promote the football, Nathan Peats needs to attack from dummy-half, Boyd Cordner must hit holes as though to be stopped would be fatal and James Tedesco needs to be there in support of very half break in the off chance it leads to something greater.
Since Origin expanded to a three-match series 35 years ago the team that has won the opening game has gone on to win the series on 27 occasions which is why, for the Blues, there is no turning back.
If the new generation of Blues such as Tedesco, Peats, Frizell, Trbojevic and Bird are to break free of Queensland's stranglehold it has to start here with a statement that screams they won't be intimidated any longer.
Because if this game is as close as we expect it to be with five minutes remaining we will be witness to an all-too-familiar ending.
Why Queensland can win: The tense nature in which series openers are regularly played falls perfectly into the hands of two of the most gifted executors of a rugby league game-plan that have ever graced the field. Everything Cameron Smith does screams of someone who was born with rugby league instincts while Cooper Cronk may be the most perfectly programmed halfback to ever wear the No.7 jersey. Together they can dictate the terms of a game better than anyone and their control allows those around them to play their role without having to extend beyond their comfort zone. While ever Smith and Cronk are on the park Queensland are in the contest.
Why NSW can win: They may have big blokes that will be required to roll their way up-field but the greatest threat posed by the NSW forwards will be on their edges. Such is the depth of back-row talent within the Blues right now that Laurie Daley couldn't fit them all into his 17 and in Boyd Cordner and Josh Jackson have two of the most effective edge-runners in the game. Cordner's club combination with Mitchell Pearce will come to the fore while James Maloney's ability to beat a defender on the outside will open up opportunities for Jackson to hit back on an angle. Origins are won in the middle but opportunities are created on the edge.
The history: Played 108; Queensland 58; NSW 48; Drawn 2. Queensland's dominance over the past decade has made a contest that was once neck-and-neck decidedly one-sided, with the Maroons winning 22 of the past 33 Origin clashes. On the surface having two games at home would suggest the Blues' task will be even tougher but they have actually won eight of the 18 series that have featured two games in Brisbane, including their most recent success in 2014. Also, 18 of the 35 Origin series to date have had the opening game played at Lang Park/Suncorp Stadium and the ledger reads nine wins apiece.
What are the odds: Queensland $1.87, New South Wales $1.95. All of the early money was with Queensland but ever since teams were named, Sportsbet has seen huge support for NSW. Sixty per cent of the money is on the Blues in the head-to-head market and surprisingly, NSW 13-plus is the best backed winning margin. Corey Oates is the most popular in the first try-scorer market ahead of Jarryd Hayne and Dane Gagai. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin; Assistant Referee: Gerard Sutton; Touch Judges: Brett Suttor and Chris Butler; Senior Review Official: Bernard Sutton; Review Official: Ben Galea.
NRL.com predicts: This is not a game that the Maroons will particularly want to open up so the onus is on the Blues to chance their hand and create more point-scoring opportunities than they have in recent years. The prediction of a cool yet clear night should help in the promotion of a more expansive Origin than perhaps we have become accustomed; the question is whether the Blues have the confidence with which to attack it. Maroons by four points.
This article first appeared on NRL.com