Baby Maroons set to play like it’s 1995
Maroons coach Wayne Bennett has hit back at critics of his injury-plagued squad, which has been derided as Queensland's worst State of Origin team in 25 years.
Bennett says Queensland's new-look team will muscle up to the Blues in tonight's Origin opener at Adelaide Oval.
It is the first time in history that an Origin match will be played in South Australia, with the crowd capped at 27,750 - half the Adelaide Oval capacity - due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Queensland skipper Daly Cherry-Evans will be the senior figurehead among eight Maroons debutants, including A.J. Brimson, Xavier Coates, Kurt Capewell, Brenko Lee, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Jake Friend, Lindsay Collins and Jaydn Su'A.
While Lee suffered an injury scare at Maroons training yesterday, Bennett said he was confident the Logan Brothers junior would be cleared of a calf strain for his maiden outing in Maroon.
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Bookmakers have installed the Blues as hot $1.34 favourites to win a third straight Origin series, but Bennett scoffed at suggestions the Maroons would lose 3-0.
This is Queensland's greatest challenge since 1995, when the Paul Vautin-coached Maroons - dubbed "Neville Nobodies" - overcame the loss of star Super League-aligned players to beat NSW 3-0 in the greatest upset in Origin history.
"I have faith in the quality of players here," Bennett said.
"We believe we have picked the best players we can and after that, I have to give them confidence to get the job done.
"What the critics or NSW want to say has no relevance to me.
"We have a good team of people here who understand Queensland and can relate to Queensland."
Gympie product Fa'asuamaleaui will make his starting debut in the Queensland No.13 jumper, and the hulking 116kg forward insists he won't be intimidated by the Blues.
"I can't wait to get out there and get the ball in my hands," the 20-year-old said.
"We are that determined to prove everyone wrong.
"There is a lot of talk out there that we can't live up to Origin, but we have trained hard in this camp and every single one of us is up to it.
"We won't be intimidated by NSW. We will enjoy it."
With borders open, thousands of interstate visitors are expected to be in the stands for the 7.10pm (Queensland time) kick-off.
The South Australian Tourism Commission yesterday confirmed changes had been made to the contract with the NRL when the match was postponed in June, and crowds were halved, but would not say if government funding had been cut.
A commission spokeswoman refused to reveal the cost of taking an Origin game to Adelaide, saying, "The details of the NRL contract are commercial in confidence''.
"Clearly, the delivery of the match has been impacted by COVID restrictions, and a variation on the original agreement was negotiated,'' the spokeswoman said.
As well as the footy, all eyes will be on former The Voice contestant Rachael Leahcar when she sings the national anthem after the NRL controversially scrapped the song earlier this week before reversing the decision within hours after bowing to public pressure.
The game will be broadcast live on Channel 9, with pre and post-game analysis and a full replay broadcast on Foxtel and Kayo.
Last year Game One of the series attracted a Sydney television audience of 950,000 while in Brisbane it was 746,000.
In Melbourne 273,000 watched, Adelaide 90,000, Perth 118,000, regional Queensland 350,000, and country NSW 540,000.
Sydney will host Game Two at ANZ Stadium next Wednesday, before the series moves to Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on November 18.
Originally published as Baby Maroons set to play like it's 1995