NSW and Queensland go head-to-head in the annual Australian blockbuster State of Origin three-game series this week. The two states will battle it out on the pitch in Game I at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 6.
Queensland have had a stranglehold on the Origin concept for the past 12 years. The Maroons have won every series since 2006, barring in 2014. They have won the past three series in a row, the past two under coach Kevin Walters. That golden run of 11 wins in 12 years is the greatest since the competition was created in 1982.
But that winning streak is under threat like never before. Three of Queensland’s greatest-ever players, who have been integral to that long run of dominance, have retired. Captain Cameron Smith and halfbacks Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk have all hung up their boots. Their absence leaves a huge hole and changes up the markets big time for rugby betting fans.
Compounding it is the news that fellow veteran and icon, Billy Slater, will miss Game I with injury. Slater has already announced that the 2018 series will be his last before he retires. Now the Maroons will have to do without the Melbourne Storm and Kangaroos great for the first game.
NSW have a new coach and a record 11 new debutants as they seek to get out of their funk and beat Queensland. New boss Brad Fittler has replaced Laurie Daley. Fittler is trying to build a new culture, instill new standards and new methods to combat the mighty Maroons. So he has based his selections almost entirely on form, not reputation. He has thrown caution to the wind and picked 11 players who will get their first taste of Origin this Wednesday.
Only six players have been retained from the 2017 series. Captain Boyd Cordner keeps his spot, along with fullback James Tedesco, five-eighth James Maloney, and forwards David Klemmer, Tyson Frizell and Jake Trbojevic. The Blues have opted for pace, power and talent over experience and age, something to consider while perusing markets at the top rugby betting sites.
Young guns Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts and Josh Addo-Carr have all been selected. They will make up a backline with pace to burn. NSW has probably never had a more potent back division of speed and try-scoring smarts. Brett Morris, Josh Dugan and Jarryd Hayne make way for them.
In the forward pack Damien Cook, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Jack de Belin, Paul Vaughan, Angus Crichton and Tyrone Peachey made the cut, with the likes of Kangaroo players Aaron Woods, Wade Graham and Andrew Fifita omitted.
It is pack that has grunt and speed, along with dynamism. Young halfback Nathan Cleary replaces the injured Mitchell Pearce. But it remains a risky ploy to throw so many Origin newbies into a series at the same time. It could backfire on NSW - something to keep in mind when deciding on your rugby betting strategy for this one.
Queensland have also made many changes, though not as many as the Blues. Andrew McCullough will take Smith’s position, with Greg Inglis given the captaincy. McCullough will make his debut in Game I along with Felise Kaufusi and Jai Arrow. The Maroons blooded several players last year, so 2018 will be their second series.
Somewhat surprisingly Origin veterans Matt Scott and Darius Boyd were not picked. Anthony Milford or Kalyn Ponga will play at fullback, with Slater out. Ben Hunt will partner Cameron Munster in the halves, with Michael Morgan the utility option off the bench. All up, a staggering 14 players combined will make their debuts this Wednesday.
Most State of Origin games are tight rugby league contests where refereeing decisions can prove pivotal. Momentum in these matches is crucial and can swing each way. Surprisingly, the bookmakers have NSW as the slight favourites and not Queensland.
William Hill have NSW to win at 1/2 and Queensland at 8/5. Unibet has NSW at 4/9 and Queensland attractively at 7/4. Betway has the Blues at 1/2 and Queensland at 8/5, while Sportnation has the Blues at 1/2 and the Maroons 8/5. Considering Queensland’s record in the past record, they remain a good bet for a Game I victory.
There is also some decent value in picking the first try-scorer. William Hill has Dane Gagai at 10/1, Valentine Holmes at 10/1 and Greg Inglis at 14/1. Gagai averages a try in every Origin game, with seven in seven appearances, Holmes has bagged four tries in two Origin matches, while Inglis has crossed 18 times in 30 Origin games.
For NSW Josh Addo-Carr is at 9/1, Tom Trbojevic is at 9/1 and James Roberts at 10/1. All are proven NRL try-scorers, who can sniff out a try at the drop of a hat, and are priced at decent odds. The Player to score two tries or more odds have Gagai and Holmes both at 7/1. Either are definitely worth some money and are great value.