Ahead of Game One of the 2023 Ampol State of Origin series, a handful of decisions shape as being key factors in deciding who leaves Adelaide Oval with a victory.
We take a look at some of the crucial coaching calls which could determine the outcome of Origin I.
Picking Reece Walsh at fullback
Compared to Kalyn Ponga in 2023, Reece Walsh has form on his side and runs on the board as a fullback at club level. With 13 try assists and averaging 152 run metres per game, few can argue he’s been a dynamic threat for the Broncos.
But the Maroons debutant has also been full of errors, with his 21 so far being the most among fullbacks and fourth most across the whole NRL.
Ponga on the other hand, during a 2022 series in which he was among Queensland’s best players, made just one handling error in three games, and is a proven quantity at Origin level.
Unsurprisingly the Blues have vowed to target Walsh, and the way in which he responds will be crucial to his side’s chances.
Pairing the Penrith playmakers
The decision to retain Jarome Luai at five-eighth over Nicho Hynes was arguably the biggest NSW coach Brad Fittler faced ahead of the opener.
On one hand it gives the Blues an all-Penrith left edge, with the withdrawal of Latrell Mitchell (calf) meaning Stephen Crichton is now set to partner Luai and Brian To’o on that side of the field, presenting some major potential positives.
On the other, what is the opportunity cost of opting to leave one of the competition’s form players sitting on your bench?
Time will tell.
The Hammer nailing his positional switch
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow has been one of the NRL’s form fullbacks this year, but the switch to centre – where he will have to mark on up on either Tom Trbojevic or Stephen Crichton – will be a different kettle of fish.
How he adapts to making defensive reads in the position will be key, while physically it’ll be an adjustment as well.
Tabuai-Fidow has been asked to make less than seven tackles per game on average this year, a number which is set to double on Wednesday night
In three NRL games at centre last year, The Hammer made 25 tackles and missed nine, while in his Origin debut back in 2021 he lined up in the No.4 jersey and made 10 tackles with two misses.
How do the Blues limit David Fifita?
David Fifita has been causing issues for right edges in the NRL all season, and if NSW don’t get it right on Wednesday night he could be a difference maker for the Maroons.
Tyson Frizell, who boasts a 96.3 percent tackle efficiency rate this year, is set to mark up on Fifita, after the pair met at club level back in Round 11 in a clash which Frizell’s Knight’s won despite Fifita having a field day with ball in hand.
The 23-year-old ran for 234 metres that day and scored two tries, and while a fair chunk of that had nothing to do with Frizell, it’ll be interesting what lessons were learned and if there’ll be an impact on confidence for either player.
Just as important as limiting what impact Fifita has will be taking away his chances to zap the energy of Nathan Cleary by making him tackle, leaving Frizell and Tom Trbojevic in particular with a key role as bodyguards.
How each team operates at hooker
On paper Queensland have a potential advantage at dummy half, but how Billy Slater opts to use Ben Hunt and Harry Grant will go a long way to deciding what that actually turns into on the field.
Hunt gives Queensland another organiser and crucially another elite kicking option, but Grant – who averaged 47 minutes per game off the bench in the three games last year – is the man who can speed the ruck up if the Maroons see a path to wearing New South Wales down that way.
While splitting minutes evenly as dedicated hookers is one option, they could share the field at times too with both players able to do stints as roaming middle forwards.
Much of it may be dictated by what New South Wales opt to do. If they play Api Koroisau for 80 there could be chances to take advantage of fatigue, while potential back-ups, Jarome Luai and Nicho Hynes, have little experience in the position.