In his latest Total Rugby League column, English coach Alan Kilshaw looks ahead to the State of Origin series.
The countdown is well and truly on for the beast that is State of Origin.
Two weeks out to the first game of the series “Origin” seems to get bigger and bigger each year.
Living in a Queensland town, which has produced SoO players Dale Shearer, Martin Bella, Kevin Campion and Wendell Sailor I have seen first hand the passion, and pride that each series brings.
On May 27th when NSW host Queensland this will be the third series I have experienced in Australia.
Houses are covered in flags, scarves and banners, pubs are packed out and people host Origin parties and BBQ’s.
The good thing about not watching the Origin in England is you don’t have to pull a sickie to watch it. Not that I have ever done that! Kick off is on prime time TV in the evening and the huge game build up starts around an hour before with record TV audiences across the world rising each year.
We are at that stage of the season where the coaches are about to name their game 1 sides what I have noticed during my stay here is the Queensland team gets good support from there press. I put this down to winning 8 straight and even in defeat last year they weren’t far off. The injury to Cooper Cronk in game 1 a huge factor on the series in my opinion.
NSW on the other hand have a huge amount of pressure on them before a ball has even been kicked. Each year the big debate is who will be the NSW halves? Last year’s series winning halves, the Bulldogs duo of Trent Hodgkinson and Josh Reynolds, have not been in great form and the scrutiny from the press and TV around these positions I’m sure is overwhelming.
The build up has been intense. Since NRL round 1, Origin is mentioned pre and post most games.
Following the fall out from the Anzac Test, a lot of questions were around the “older” Queensland players and would there be a change of guard for the up and coming series? Coach Mal Meninga put them straight to bed, asking the question ‘is 30 old now?’ Mal is very loyal to his players and why wouldn’t he be – they have won him 8 series from 9. I don’t foresee many changes to the Queensland side. Brent Tate is no longer around but Will Chambers who deputised for Tate in Origin 3 last season and played for Australia against the Kiwis is a healthy replacement.
NSW on the other hand, who would have liked the luxury of some stability after securing their first series in 9 years, have had anything but that. Jarryd Hayne, one of their key players last season went to NFL, their captain and talisman Paul Gallen is battling a serious hip injury and their main enforcer Greg Bird has copped an 8 game ban for a dangerous throw during the Test match.
And the halves? Don’t be surprised to see Mitch Pearce in a number 6 shirt alongside last year’s match winning number 7, Trent Hodgkinson.
NSW will again be aided by former Wigan and Castleford player Barrie-Jon Mather who held prestigious performance roles with the RFL and England RL. BJ was a key contributor last year to the success of the NSW side. He has managed to recruit England’s Performance Analysis expert Brad Prymachuk who is now working for the NSWRL in a full time capacity and they will both have key roles during the campaign.
Whatever sides these two great states put on the park I’m sure it will be another enthralling series.
I have to tip Queensland or the locals will be restless.