State of Origin: Punters smelling a Maroons ambush

Queensland have been outsiders for every Origin opener since 2015, and while the odds favour NSW this year David Riccio is not so sure.

If the mail is right, Queensland will pick as many as five State of Origin debutants on Monday night.

Selwyn Cobbo, Reuben Cotter, Jeremiah Nanai, Patrick Carrigan and Murray Taulagi are the names being bandied around at the table of knowledge up north.
Their Maroons Origin experience of nil shouldn’t matter.

Their individual form and that of their respective clubs, the Cowboys and Broncos, is what makes this Queensland team so dangerous.

The Blues? They’re without the Mr Miyagi of Origin Tom Trbojevic, the freakish talent of Latrell Mitchell and now have front-row spearhead Payne Haas coming into camp with a suitcase that he also has packed to leave the Broncos.

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Cameron Munster and Billy Slater will lead an inexperienced Marrons squad in 2022. Picture: Adam Head
Cameron Munster and Billy Slater will lead an inexperienced Marrons squad in 2022. Picture: Adam Head

The only thing NSW coach Brad Fittler hates more than Origin squad members bringing a contract dispute into camp, is mobile phones.

Haas’ mental preparation will be paramount to the Blues success.

NSW are likely to go into game one with a different game plan than last year, which included giving Trbojevic a licence to roam and cause havoc. In replacing Trbojevic and Mitchell, Stephen Crichton and Kotoni Staggs are tipped to make their debut.

After a decade of dominance, the Maroons were embarrassed last season after losing 50-6 and 26-0 in game one and two respectively. Queensland salvaged a gritty 20-18 win to prevent a clean sweep in game three.

However, ahead of a new Queensland Origin era with Billy Slater in charge, the Maroons should be clear favourites to beat NSW in game I on June 8 in Sydney.

In at TAB headquarters, the phones have been ringing with largely one request from the caller. To back Queensland.

According to the TAB’s Rohan Welsh, the Maroons are more popular than Wally Lewis walking down Caxton Street.
A massive 90 per cent of all head-to-head bets for Origin I is on Queensland to beat the Blues.

The Cane Toads just keep firming.

Queensland were originally posted by the bookies as $3.25 outsiders. One confident punter dropped $13,000 at that price.

Those odds have since been shredded to $2.55. NSW, without strike-force Mitchell and Trbojevic, are cooling like the Sydney weather, drifting from $1.35 to $1.55.

“The support is definitely flowing Queensland’s way,” Welsh said.

“A lot of that has been early money from punters chasing the value, but the resurgent form of the Cowboys, Broncos plus the performances of their likely spine in Daly Cherry-Evans, Cameron Munster, Harry Grant and Kalyn Ponga has seen a plenty on interest in Queensland for Game One and the series.

“The Maroons tightened from $3.25 into $2.55 after Tom Trbojevic joined Latrell Mitchell on the sideline and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this market close right up even further.”

A winner in every sense of the word, Slater would hold no fear of the pressure that comes with the expectation of being favourites.

NSW will miss stars Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Images
NSW will miss stars Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Images

He runs opposed to the narrative that other Queenslanders prefer, which is themed along the lines of boasting a spirit born from being dismissed by the NSWRL as lesser than, when Origin first began.

The last time the Maroons were favourites, Slater in 2016 won the Peter Jackson medal for biggest contribution to Queensland Origin – and he didn’t even play. He was injured and helped coach alongside Kevin Walters in his first series in charge.

When Slater gathers Queensland in a room on Monday night, he’ll stand in front of his new-look Maroons squad. To his left will be Johnathan Thurston. To his right, will be Cameron Smith.

Wally Lewis would only need to walk in the room to complete the Mount Rushmore of Queensland State of Origin.

Josh Hannay is a key part of the Maroons coaching cohort. Picture: Adam Head
Josh Hannay is a key part of the Maroons coaching cohort. Picture: Adam Head

Helping Slater with the latest of NRL patterns and trends will be former Maroons centre and Sharks assistant coach Josh Hannay.

The only member of the coaching staff involved in the NRL, Hannay was Slater‘s first appointment and told SEN Radio on Wednesday, the North Queenslander is an NRL coach, it’s just a matter of when.

Nate Myles and Allan Langer will also be part of the Queensland support team.

Young, fast and powerful, the Maroons will be a completely different beast than the series past.

They haven’t started favourites for the opening game of an Origin series since 2015.

Six years of being underdogs.

Not this time. The punters are queuing behind the smell of a Maroons ambush in Sydney.


– By Brent Read

For more than a decade, they were NSW’s worst nightmare. Between them, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith played 73 State of Origin games. They won the vast majority of them too.

They tormented the Blues and now they are back, carrying the hopes of the state once again on their shoulders. On the face of it, the Maroons couldn’t be in better hands.

The early version of Slater beat NSW with blistering speed. Later in life, he combined that with unerring smarts and unrelenting determination that allowed him to overcome career-threatening shoulder injuries.

Queensland greats Billy Slater and Cameron Smith have reunited for this year’s Origin series. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Queensland greats Billy Slater and Cameron Smith have reunited for this year’s Origin series. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

With Smith, it was death by a thousand cuts. He would pick you apart with the art of subtlety. He would bend games – and often referees – to his will.

Slater and Smith, sounds more like a law firm than a coaching tandem. Don’t bet against them though. Their stories suggest they don’t often lose.

They were born on the same day – June 18, 1983. They overcame disappointment and the occasional setback before they set up camp in Melbourne – for a time, they lived together – and finished their careers as two of the greatest players the game has seen.

In Smith’s case, maybe the greatest. Early next week, another challenge begins as they attempt to plot another Origin dynasty.

To be fair, if you know Slater, he’s probably been plotting it from the time he was appointed to take over as Queensland head coach late last year.

The greatest fullback in the game’s history is also one of its most diligent students. Teammates have described how Slater was a coach on the field, calling and designing plays to the point it drove some of them to distraction.

When Slater took over as Queensland coach, he reached out to as many eligible players as he could. He let them know they were in his thoughts. Some of them were stunned to hear from the Queensland coach.

It was a small gesture but it meant so much. It was Slater’s way of making them feel like they were part of something bigger. A maroon family.

Smith had the right stuff from the start. Even as a six-year-old in Brisbane, his father Wayne recalls a kid who had the feel for the game, the sort of stuff you can’t coach.

He went on to win six man of the match awards in Origin and four Wally Lewis medals as player of the series. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who understood or acclimatised to Origin like Smith, who first raised the idea of a return to Origin in a coaching capacity in the pages of this newspaper last year.

Cameron Smith and Billy Slater continued to have success off the field once they had retired from playing. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Cameron Smith and Billy Slater continued to have success off the field once they had retired from playing. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

So here they are, with another of their dynasty members Johnathan Thurston and Josh Hannay along for the ride. The Maroons have lost three of the past four series and the sense is that NSW coach Brad Fittler has found the secret to Origin success.

He has remained loyal because that’s what success allows you to do. Last year was arguably his finest hour as he won the series thanks to two victories in Queensland.

The Blues did it largely off the back of their centres Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic. Neither will be there when the series begins in just over a week thanks to injury. The cards, it seems, are falling the way of Smith and Slater yet again.

Luck has accompanied them their entire careers. The sort of luck that only comes with hard work and dedication. It has brought with it decades of success, firstly on the football field and then off it in the corporate world and the commentary box.

The question is whether he can replicate that success in the cut and thrust of an Origin coaches box. Queensland are banking on it.

* * * * *

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo will have the backing of the players union if he decides to introduce a rule to fast-track indigenous coaches into the NRL.

Abdo marked the launch of indigenous round by suggesting the game could consider replicating the Rooney Rule, which is used in the NFL to mandate that American football teams must interview minority candidates in their search for coaches.

Rugby league has had one indigenous head coach in its history – Arthur Beetson. Rugby League Players Association chief executive Clint Newton wants that to change and will endorse any move by the NRL to force greater representation of cultures in the coaches box and corridors of power.

“Representation matters and we‘re going to do everything we can to continue to provide opportunities but we can’t only look at this from a player up approach,” Newton said.

“At the RLPA we have introduced a diversity and inclusion policy as it applies to our delegate group so that we can ensure we‘re using our platform to foster inclusive leadership within each NRL and NRLW club so that all voices have a seat at the table when discussing the key issues affecting players.

“Without affirmative action change doesn‘t happen and we need to ensure the mismatch between the cultures represented within our playing base and our coaching and administration staff within the game is prioritised.

“It‘s evident that we need to ensure a clearly defined pathway exists for Indigenous, Pasifika and minority group players to access and assume leadership roles not only within their clubs but also within the RLPA ranks.

“Increasing the number of coaches and senior administrators within the game that are Indigenous and people of colour among other minority groups will bring a level of safety, security, understanding and inclusion to rugby league that players have not necessarily had the opportunity to experience.”

Originally published as State of Origin: Punters smelling a Maroons ambush