With the first game of Origin 2018 set to kick-off this evening in the heart of AFL territory in Melbourne, we examine the key matchups for the match. There is a definite changing of the guard happening at the Maroons, given the retirement of key players and legends, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, along with the withdrawal of legendary fullback Billy Slater due to injury.
Slater will also follow Smith, Thurston and Cronk into retirement at the conclusion of the series. The Blues will come into this series with a new coach in Brad (Freddie) Fittler and eleven debutants. Freddie has opted for an abundance of players with speed, which definitely gives them the ascendancy in that department. Here are the key matchups:
1 James Tedesco vs Michael Morgan
Here we have the speedy Roosters custodian, James Tedesco, up against versatile Cowboys utility, Michael Morgan.
Ever since making his Origin debut in 2016, Tedesco has been one of the Blues’ best players, as he constantly proved to be an attacking thorn in the Maroons’ defence. Teddy’s incredible speed and potency in attack is one that the Maroons must remain alert for, given his innate ability to make even the best defences look silly.
With the withdrawal of regular fullback, Billy Slater to injury, Maroons coach Kevin Walters has opted for the versatile Morgan to slot into the custodian role. Not only is he able to play anywhere on the field, he has proven his worth in the fullback role at club level for the Cowboys. Whilst he may not be as fast as his opposite number, Margo is no slouch himself, as he possesses a fair amount of pace, as well as enough strength to be mistaken for a forward.
2 Josh Addo-Carr vs Valentine Holmes
This matchup features the man they call the “Fox” against another speedster in Valentine Holmes.
Josh Addo-Carr has been absolutely phenomenal at club level for the Storm, and has thoroughly deserved his representative debut. He is known as the fox, given his speed is highly similar to said animal, and is said to be fastest player of any football code in Australia. A definite asset for the Blues, especially in attack.James Roberts vs Greg Inglis
Regardless of this, the Maroons have their own strike power out wide, with Holmes being one of their wingers. Unlike his opposing winger, Holmes has some Origin experience, given he made his debut in last year’s series. It was a debut series which we could only dream of, given he scored 4 tries across the second and third games (including a hat trick in game 3) last year. Moreover, he has shown his attacking prowess at club level for the Sharks, and is also more than capable of sniffing out a try.
3 James Roberts vs Greg Inglis
Here, we have another speedster in James Roberts, up against one of the game’s greatest players in Greg Inglis.
The man they call “Jimmy the Jet” is yet another one of the speedsters whom Freddie has handed heir debut to. Early in his league career, Jimmy the Jet had been troubled my several misdemeanors, which nearly ended his career. Fortunately, his stint at the Titans saw him go on the straight and narrow to be one of the most feared speedsters in the NRL. His form at the Titans eventually saw him make the short trip up the M1 to the Broncos, where he picked up from where he left off. Another asset for the Blues, given his abundance of pace and his ability to find the line.
The man known as G.I needs absolutely no introduction, given how superb he has been at club level for the Storm and Rabbitohs, as well as representative level for the Maroons and national team. Despite his incredibly large and hefty frame, G.I possess an abundance of speed which has terrorised his opponents for over a decade. It is is strength and speed which has seen him have minimal trouble in sniffing out a try. Moreover, given the retirement of incumbent skipper and good mate, Cameron Smith, Inglis has been handed the captaincy. With his ability to lead with action as well as words, there is no doubt that G.I will relish leading his ‘adopted’ state in another series victory, thereby following his predecessors’ footsteps.
4 James Maloney vs Cameron Munster
Here, we see the experienced James Maloney, up against Cameron Munster, who is the heir apparent to the great Johnathan Thurston.
Maloney has been a lucky charm at just about every club that he has played for (Storm, Warriors, Roosters, and now the Panthers), given they have have either made the grand final, or better yet, gone on to win the premiership. Moreover he is an absolute sharpshooter, which is why he has been the first choice kicker for his clubs. His advantage over his opposing five-eighth is that he possesses more experience, as well as his rather high average on the goal kicking front. In fact, Maloney is the most experienced out of any of the halves in this match at Origin level.
Munster has been absolutely brilliant at club level for the Storm since his debut in 2014, and is able to play as a five-eighth or fullback. Moreover, although the Storm are not as strong as last season, Munster has played out of his skin, to be one of their best for the season thus far. He is also able to kick goals, which can come in handy for the Maroons, given the retirements of Smithy and JT has deprived them of some goal kicking potency. Whilst his opposite number has more experience in terms of Origin matches, he has actually participated in a victorious series, given his debut was in last year’s decider, won by the Maroons.
5 Nathan Cleary vs Ben Hunt
He we have Panthers youngster, Nathan Cleary, up against former Bronco turned Dragon, Ben Hunt. This battle can be regarded as a battle between two inexperienced halves.
With previous halfback, Mitchell Pearce, having held the position for a lengthy amount of time and no series victories to show for it, selectors opted to bring in a fresh face in instead, and it has come in the form of the youthful Nathan Cleary. Cleary has been nothing short of stupendous since his debut for the Panthers in 2016. As well as an amazing ability to find the try line, Cleary is more than adept in the goal kicking department as well, both of which are definite assets for the Blues. He has admitted that there is some pressure there, considering he holds a very important position in directing his team around the paddock. However, unlike his predecessors in previous years, he will not have to contend with the might of JT and Cronk as opposing players.
Ever since his move to the Dragons over the summer, Hunt has been able to recapture the form that saw him steer the Broncos to the grand final in 2015. At the Dragons, he has directed his team with such aplomb, that they find themselves in a share of the lead on the ladder. Although it is only minimal, Hunt made his debut in the third and deciding match last year. However, he may well use this to his advantage, particularly if the match is to be won on experience. He has the perfect opportunity to prove himself, especially given the retirement of his predecessors, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
6 Damian Cook vs Andrew McCullough
A matchup featuring two debutants, with one of them needing to fill some massive shoes.
Damien Cook has been nothing short of phenomenal since his move from the Bulldogs to the Rabbitohs. It even has some Dogs fans lambasting the staff for making a similar blunder to the one over a decade ago featuring one J. Thurston. Cook is absolutely dynamic out of dummy half and is also able to sniff out a four pointer. This is something that the Blues can use to their advantage, given the amount os pace and strike power in their ranks.
Cook’s opponent is Broncos’ rake, Andrew McCullough, who will have enormous shoes to fill, with the retirement of Cameron Smith prior to the series. McCullough has a very similar approach and work ethic to Smith, in that he is a tireless workhorse in defence, sets up numerous tries from dummy half and has a steady kicking game. As such, if there is anyone capable of quickly filling the boots of Smith, it’s McCullough.
7 Reagan Campbell-Gillard vs Dylan Napa
In a battle of the big boppers, we see the Panthers’ Reagan Campbell-Gillard, up against the Roosters’ Dylan Napa.
Reggie has been sensational for the Panthers since his debut in 2015. Whenever he takes a hit up with the ball, it is almost guaranteed that he will run at the opposition defence with real gusto, thereby making some vital metres for his team. This means that, with the obvious strike power in their backs, the likes of Campbell-Gillard and front-row partner, David Klemmer can lay the platform for their backs to finish the job with some four-pointers.
His opposite number, Dylan Napa, may have been a touch fortunate to escape suspension a few weeks ago, but there is minimal doubt the Maroons want him fired up for the Origin opener. Napa made his Origin debut last season and played all three matches as the Maroons would eventually win the series and retain the shield. Napa’s greatest asset is his aggression, as he has a large frame which is yearning for the physical side. As such, he will relish the opportunity for some heavy contact with the Blues.
Which key match-up looms as the most important to you? Let us know in the comments below.
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