New South Wales and Queensland renew their rivalry when State of Origin 2019 kicks off in Brisbane on Wednesday, and we have a comprehensive preview ahead of game one.
What makes State of Origin special?
Billed as ‘mate versus mate, state versus state’, the annual Origin contest sees the best Australian players from Queensland and New South Wales going head-to-head in an intense three-game series.
Eligibility for the teams was, for many year, based on which state a player first played senior rugby league in, hence the name ‘State of Origin’. Those rules were adapted in 2012 to included place of birth and other factors such as residency.
Initially played as one-off games in 1980 and 1981, the Origin matches replaced the old inter-state series completely in 1982. State of Origin has since gone on to become one of the highest-profile annual events in both rugby league and Australian sport in general.
There is no love lost between either team in this fierce rivalry, where players who might find themselves lining up alongside each other for their clubs become enemies for one game.
That has endured since the very first Origin match 39 years ago, where Queensland’s Arthur Beetson clobbered Parramatta Eels team-mate Mick Cronin while he was standing in a tackle.
But along with the intensity of the rivalry, the clashes pit some of the best players in the world against each other and are renowned as a showcase of high-quality rugby too.
What happened last year?
New South Wales snapped the Maroons’ three-year period of dominance by wresting back the State of Origin shield with a 2-1 series victory.
It represented a triumph for new Blues coach Brad Fittler, who captained the team on a record 17 occasions during his playing days and completely overhauled the squad when he took over from Laurie Daley.
A NSW team featuring 11 debutants beat Queensland 22-12 in the opener in Melbourne and clinched the series on home turf with an 18-14 triumph in Sydney – only their third series win since 2005.
Queensland, once again coached by Kevin Walters, will take encouragement from the final game of Origin 2018 where this year’s captain Daly Cherry-Evans played a key role an 18-12 win in Brisbane.
Where are the games being played?
Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane hosts the opener on Wednesday, with the 2019 Origin series concluding at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on July 10.
This year will see Origin head to Western Australia for the first time as well, with Perth’s 65,000-capacity Optus Stadium hosting game two of the series on Sunday, June 23.
The decision to go to Perth follows Melbourne becoming a regular host for games in recent years, with a match in the Aussie Rules football heartland of Adelaide slated for 2020 as well.
DCE aims to ‘do the job for Queensland’
Daly Cherry-Evans has gone from a Maroons exile to being entrusted with the responsibility of captaincy following his impressive showing on his recall to the team last year.
The Manly Sea Eagles half-back was dropped by then-coach Mal Meninga following Queensland’s defeat in the second game of Origin 2015, which the Maroons recovered from to win the series 2-1.
Cherry-Evans then had to wait patiently before being recalled to the side for game three of last year’s series by head coach Kevin Walters, where he put in a stand-out performance to ensure they claimed a consolation win.
With last year’s captain Greg Inglis having retired, Walters had little hesitation in naming Cherry-Evans as skipper and the 30-year-old credits that with the lessons he learned after being dropped.
“Getting dropped is never a nice feeling,” Cherry-Evans said. “The day I will never forget was the day Mal called me and told me I wasn’t going to be selected for game three of 2015.
“All good and bad I have experienced as a player has put me in this position to be where I am now, and that’s why I am extremely grateful for the lessons I have learned for nearly 10 years now.
“I am thankful for everyone who put me in this position. My job now is to go out and do the job for Queensland.”
Quintet ready for Blues bows
NSW head coach Brad Fittler has again handed several players their Blues debuts for the first game of the Origin series, although only five are making their first appearances this time compared to the 11 in 2018.
Half-back Cody Walker and winger Nick Cotric both start, while Jack Wighton, Cameron Murray and Payne Haas will all be aiming to make their mark off the interchange bench.
Second row Murray, who plies his trade for South Sydney Rabbitohs, has already tasted Origin success for New South Wales after leading the U18 and U20 teams to glory over their bitter rivals in 2016 and 2017.
And the 21-year-old is ready to face the onslaught from the Queensland fans when the Blues step out onto the Suncorp Stadium pitch on Wednesday.
“I don’t know what to expect, it’s pretty daunting just thinking about it,” Murray said.
“I love Suncorp (Stadium) and it’s the best stage in the NRL, and there’s no better way to do it than with 50,000 Queensland fans there booing you.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet, but it’s important I enjoy the week, build new relationships and learn off some of the league’s best players.”
Queensland: Kalyn Ponga, Corey Oates, Michael Morgan, Will Chambers, Dane Gagai, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jai Arrow, Ben Hunt, Josh Papalii, Felise Kaufusi, Matt Gillett, Josh McGuire.
Interchange: Moses Mbye, Joe Ofahengaue, Dylan Napa, David Fifita.