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State of Origin Game 1 preview

The start of winter in Australia means the northern states get excited about a series which most place above club allegiance - Rugby League State of Origin. With an in-depth look at the opening game of the series are the guys from ReadingThePlay, a leading Australian sports intelligence site analysing several sports including NRL. You can also follow them on Twitter via a number of accts, including @ReadingThePlay

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STATE OF ORIGIN – NSW V QLD GAME 1

Sydney, Homebush 8pm Wednesday

A few facts and figures –
- QLD have won four of the last six games at Homebush
- QLD have now won seven series straight, and lead the overall counts – Series 17-12 and individual Games 51-43
- Likely ground conditions wet and slippery under foot following recent wet weather

QLD
- Lose Petro (retired) and Hannant (injured) from last year’s side, have named only two specialist front rowers
- This is the oldest QLD Origin side ever, is father time starting to catch up with this great team?
- Six of their back seven make up the current national side plus their 9 is world class

NSW
- Key positional changes at 6 (Maloney replacing Carney) and 1 (Hayne replacing B Stewart), Glenn Stewart also a key out
- Four specialist front rowers / up front middle players
- Pearce and Maloney halves club combination

Tip: NSW

Like most big games the midfield battle and kicking games will go a long way toward deciding this result and I think NSW have a potential edge here. For years QLD have built their success off the back of quality front rowers (Webcke, Price, Petro and co) and workaholic backrowers which has then allowed their skill and class across their back seven to shine. I think the wheel might be turning. Across the last 12 months they have lost Price and Petro to retirement, are now missing Hannant due to injury and have chosen just the two specialist front rowers in Scott and Shillington. This has to mean players like Myles, Thaiday and Parker will need to play the midfield role and look after much more of the donkey work than they normally do (and negates Thaiday’s role on the right edge). It was noticeable last year that Big Mal had started to tweak QLD’s attack plan on the back of these changes with more dummy half play and a preparedness to shift the ball quickly to the edges – to lessen any ongoing mid field battle and attempt to gas the NSW forwards but with likely wet and slippery conditions and a short 10 mtrs (Klein) this Wednesday night I think such plans will struggle and carry far greater risk. The rest of the QLD side picks itself with it reeking class and quality across their back seven.

I think the NSW team looks about right. They have a better mix of size and grunt in the middle than they have attempted to play with through recent years (Gallen, Tamou, Fifita, Merrin) and high work rate rotations for the middle (Bird, Watmough), significantly Fifita and Watmough have been in outstanding club form. Maloney’s selection off the back of his good form makes sense, he and Pearce can play similar roles to that that they do for the Roosters which will allow them greater freedom in attack as opposed to being locked into rigid left and right roles while Maloney’s kicking game and goal kicking is obviously seen as a positive (in a close series last year NSW missed four goal kicks to QLD’s one). NSW have failed through recent years to execute a near perfect kicking game (long and short) and so once again much will ride on the back of how their 7 and 6 two aim up. It’s no use winning or dominating the mid field battle if your playmakers can’t capitalise (and clearly why QLD have won the past seven series).

Daley’s appointment might also prove a positive step at the right time for NSW, he looks likely to bring a more relaxed and composed approach to that of his predecessor.

NSW have the obvious advantage of playing two games at Homebush this year which on the back of the last two series being far closer and the gap narrowing makes it surprising that as good as $2.20 has been available for them to win the series (any result). I would have thought something around $1.80 was about the mark, especially with the loss of Hannant in game one and for mine looks the right longer term series play.

For Game 1 I also rate the likely ground conditions and referee as significant factors in NSW’s favour. Homebush has copped a dumping of rain across the last 4 or so days with reports that the grass will now be mowed short in preparation for this game, with continued cold muggy weather I’d expect a dam and slippery track come game time which should suit NSW through the middle (and potentially negate QLD’s advantage across their back five). Like many I’m surprised at the appointment of Ashley Klein, he is certainly not noted for a decent 10 metres which should also play to NSW’s advantage allowing them to focus more on their mid field yardage game and lessen the room and time that Cronk and Thurston have to play with.

I think NSW have much in their favour here and can win. I have nothing but respect for QLD and the class that they carry, and nothing would surprise to see a touch of quality from an Inglis, Smith, Thurston or Slater be the telling difference – such is Origin. But NSW haven’t been that far away through recent years, I think this looks just about as strong and as balanced a side as they could offer, they have some key players on the up (Farah, Fifita, Hayne, Maloney) and get their chance. NSW by 8.

Betting Interests:
My anchor bet is NSW to win the series (any result) $2.10.
For Game 1 I like NSW at the line +1.5 $1.87;
NSW Tri bet over 6.5 $3.28 and the total game score Over 33.5 $1.90.
For Man Of The Match I have backed Maloney and Hayne each at $13.

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