I’d been planning to describe tonight’s
opening State of Origin encounter as being a contest between the unknown (Maroons) and the
certain (Blues). But that has been turned upside down by the turmoil in the NSW
Blues camp. And what turmoil!

As I write – 13 hours before kick-off, it
is still uncertain whether the Blues captain and best player Danny Buderis will
play. Yesterday, Craig Gower was the Blues’ half-back, but injured himself
during training and was immediately ruled out.

An SOS went out to Andrew
Johns to end his retirement. To his considerable credit he thought about it but
decided to stick to his retirement decision. Then the selectors rang Matt
Orford, but he was injured, so the call went to the Roosters Brett Finch. The
Blues went through FOUR half backs in a couple of hours on game eve.

On the other hand, the Maroons have had the
ideal preparation, and they needed it, with an unprecedented seven players
making their debut for their state.

The run-up to each Origin series has more
diversions than the Pacific
Highway – injury scares,
stories about the influence of the referee and so on. This time I think the
diversions are the real deal… but one.

In today’s media, the Maroons’ new coach,
Mal Meninga, is quoted as saying the Origin concept might be at risk if the
Maroons don’t win.

I’d been planning to tip the Blues to
triumph in game one. That’s because of the Blues’ overwhelming experience in the
forwards. But given the turmoil in recent days, and serious doubts about Danny
Buderis’s fitness, I’m not so sure.

The way I read it the Maroons are now
clearly superior at the scrum base – Lockyer and Thurston v Finch and Anasta, and are stronger in the
backs. But the Blues’ dominance in the forwards (which has counted most
of all in recent years) is clear.

It makes for a great encounter – and that’s
why State of Origin has withstood all the tests it has been put through over the last
26 years.

Peter Fray

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