Venue: Lang Park
Time: It says 8:10 Eastern, but it’ll be whenever Channel Nine finish their pre-game advertising, so probably 9:30 Eastern as a safe bet.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, unconcerned patrons from South or West of the Murray River, have we got a treat for you- The televison spectacle of 2019, one that will blow away the finales of Married at First Sight and Lego Masters put together.
Mate against Mate, Channel Nine Commentator against Channel Nine Commentator, Liberal MP against Liberal MP- QUEENSLAND VS NEW SOUTH WALES, IN STATE OF ORIGIN 2019…. Game One.
And what a massive build-up it’s been- A declaration of war from Kevin Walters, the discourse on the national anthem, concerns about ticket sales, the ban on saying ‘New South Wales’, and now there’s been an apparent sex tape involving a Blues player.
If you only include the last two, that’s basically Penrith’s season in a nutshell.
It’s the dawn of a new era for the Maroons, with GI and Billy Slater both gone, pretty much all of the figureheads of the Eight-Peat are either retired or marching towards 400 First Grade games down south.
As a result, Daly Cherry-Evans has gone from Origin exile to Maroons skipper, and personally, I’m delighted to see that WA’s finest rugby league product is cemented as Billy’s successor at fullback for the Maroons- Kalyn Ponga.
I’m not kidding when I say that- Ponga was born in Port Headland- But, as they say, That’s In Queensland!
There’s only a few changes from Game Three last season- With Valentine Holmes off in the NFL, Michael Morgan gets a start, Ben Hunt will have the number 9 jumper due to Andrew McCullough’s injury, Matt Gillett (The best a man can get) starts in the second row, Dylan Napa is on the pine, and three debutants will come off the bench- Wests captain Moses Mbye, and Broncos pair Joe Ofahengaue & David Fifita.
While it appears that the Maroons have their biggest advantage in the halves (Eddie Munster and skipper Daly Cherry-Evans versus Cody Walker and Nathan Cleary), the real advantage lies in Kev Walters’ access to a fabled and mysterious individual known as THE COACH WHISPERER, who is racking up more billable hours than Johnny Cochrane in 1994, to the tune of some $5,500 an hour.
It appears the basic gist of THE COACH WHISPERER is to make sure the entire playing group goes a week without mentioning anything to do with ‘New South Wales’ or ‘Blues’, which surely must be building up in their minds like water in a blocked drain, in Walters’ efforts to build up a siege mentality that Mal Meninga was extremely effective in doing.
Surely a more cost effective strategy would be to ask Billy Moore to come into the room and incessantly chant “Queenslander!” and trigger the entire playing cohort into an emotion-charged attack on the Blues forward pack.
This whole move does seem like an effort from Kev to show that he doesn’t have the personality of a plank of wood, something he does seem to struggle with on Fox League.
Unfortunately, the cracks in this master plan have really started to emerge in the days before the game, especially when his own captain DCE let the team down and mentioned ‘New South Wales’ in a press conference on Monday, and was fined the considerable sum of $20.
If DCE does ultimately collapse under the weight of captaining the Sunshine State, they can always rush Alfie Langer’s freshly planted statue into the side.
Ultimately, this whole ‘Ignore the Opposition’ strategy has really painted Kev into a corner- If the Maroons pull it off and win, he’s a bigger genius than the Nutty Professor, and if they lose, then it’s the dumbest decision from a Queenslandler since Sir Joh’s run for Canberra.
And much like Bjelke-Petersen, he could be out of a job by the end of the year.
New South Wales
It was good to see the Blues deal with their biggest problem ahead of last year’s series.
The Victoria Bitter sponsorship.
What kind of self-respecting New South Wales representative team would allow themselves to be sponsored by arguably the most iconic Victorian alcoholic beverage ever produced?
That’d be like a WA team being sponsored by West End, or New South Wales by Victoria Bitter.
Forget about hiring Freddy, forget about those 11 debutants that came into the team and got the job done, getting rid of that demoralising sponsorship won them the series.
Of course, the Blues now face a new problem a few days out- News of a supposed leaked sex tape that apparently involved a Blues player, leading to immediate claims of sabotage from the likes of former Blues captain Danny Buderus.
Although, several people have viewed the tape, and reported the findings:
Anyway, it’s pretty much the same core that won the Blues the Shield last year- The likes of Tedesco, Latrell and Josh Addo-Carr, and the exact same dominant forward pack, starring Damien Cook and skippered again by Boyd Cordner, while the halves stocks have been hit hard by injuries and form, in particular the poorly timed groin injury to Mitchell Pearce, who had reeled off five consecutive MOTM performances for the Knights, and Luke Keary, who suffered another concussion in the same game for the Roosters.
As a result, Nathan Cleary retains his place, despite a Panthers season that’s tanked harder than the reputation of Game of Thrones.
As for the outs, Jack de Belin is set for a trip to Long Bay, ‘Tommy Turbo’ Trbojevic is coming back from his hamstring problems, ‘Jimmy the Jet’ Roberts only just escaped the Broncos, Tariq Sims was a one-off, and James Maloney & Tyrone Peachey have paid the price for the Panthers’ crap year.
As a result, Josh Morris has played himself back into the Origin team, and the four debutants are Souths’ try scoring machine Cody Walker, to partner Cleary at 5/8th, Walker’s Bunnies teammate Cameron Murray, the Raiders pair Nick Cotric and Jack Wighton, and Bronco Payne Haas smashes a Blues record, being picked for his Origin debut after just 10 NRL games, but he can do that sort of thing, because he’s Payne Haas, and he lives in the Haas of Payne.
What a big effort from Payne- Observing Ramadan and then straight into an Origin jersey.
Backtrack five years, I’d hazard a guess that we’d all be bagging the Blues for picking him, and calling them more desperate than desperate.
If the Blues can defend like they’ve been furiously holding off the sex tape questions from the press pack, I’d give them half a chance of winning in The Cauldron that is Lang Park.
On paper, I’d say this is the most even series since at least the mid-2000s, which coincidentally, was the last time the Blues managed to win back-to-back series.
Although the lack of those big names in the Maroons team has taken an apparent hit on ticket sales at Lang Park, which is apparently only expected to just touch 50,000 by kick-off, which would be the lowest Lang Park crowd since Game I back in 2003.
That’s either because the ticket prices are exorbitant, and/or the weather is ‘too cold’, and/or Queenslanders forgot who they were playing, thanks to those tactics from THE COACH WHISPERER.
Still, that Graveyard factor should still favour the Maroons to win tonight.
Personally, I’m pining for the series coming to Perth, just to figure out which state the WA crowd hates more.