The Queensland Maroons proved in 2020 they can do just about anything, with the “worst Origin team of all time” turning out and stunning the Blues in a dramatic series. Now, with fewer injuries and more players with Origin experience under their belts, they will be aiming to back up their performance and make it two in a row.
However, the Maroons have plenty of headaches to deal with. Dane Gagai is battling tonsillitis, to go with Kalyn Ponga pulling out of the squad and both Cameron Munster and Harry Grant not playing for several weeks leading into Origin 1 due to injury. While the Blues will provide relative security in ball control in the outside backs, there are major question marks over the Maroons, with Valentine Holmes (25) and Xavier Coates (22) in the top three for most errors made this season. That said, they have both been playing in teams down the table and will be hoping for better service from a Maroons spine featuring Cameron Munster, who has turned himself into one of the ultimate Origin players over the past few years.
He was a thorn in the Blues’ side last year, despite only playing two minutes of Game 2. It was of little surprise that the Maroons won the other two games, with Munster providing a try, a try assist, 227 running metres and almost a kilometre of kicking in those two games. While he has been under an injury cloud, he has been excellent for the Storm at club level, with six forced drop-outs to go with a pair of tries and twice as many try assists in his nine games. He will be joined by Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves, who has seven try assists for the season, but has also been controlling the Manly kicking game with 400 metres per game in that department.
If he can replicate his kicking accuracy, Munster, who averages 107 metres per game, will be an even greater headache for the Blues defence to control, especially given the speed at which rugby league is played under the new rules. Then there is also the influence of Gagai playing off Munster and Cherry-Evans, with the Rabbitohs’ outside back always coming good at Origin time, with 11 tries in 16 Queensland appearances.
The forwards are where the Maroons will hope to hold the edge though, even without suspended enforcer Josh Papalii. Starting props Christian Welch and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui average 146 and 139 metres per game, respectively, leaving them amongst the best forwards in the competition, while Jai Arrow at lock has proven dangerous with the ball in hand, adding 18 tackle busts and seven offloads for the season. Backed up on the bench by Moeaki Fotuaika (151 metres per game) and Joe Ofahengaue (111 metres, 18 offloads, 24 tackle busts), the middle third rotation for Queensland is fearsome.
Their X-Factor though may be in the second row, with David Fifita a key difference-maker for the Titans this year, already running up nine tries, ten-line breaks and 28 offloads in ten games, to go with almost 140 metres per contest. +-It makes him one of the NRL’s most in-form players, and the youngster will make an enormous difference against the Blues second-row combination of the out of position Cameron Murray, and the out of sorts Tariq Sims.
The Maroons will go into the series opener as outsiders, and it’s reasonably clear to see why when compared to the New South Wales attacking might.