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State Of Origin: Game one to be decided on three key battlefronts

ABC GrandstandABC Grandstand 1/06/2016 Jon Healy

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images As State Of Origin season rolls around again, it is still unclear just who has their nose in front.

New South Wales copped a 52-6 pasting the last time the Blues and Maroons faced off, and coming up with a response is no easy feat, but it will not happen again and a Blues bounce back is basically guaranteed on home soil.

Both teams are sporting new faces, but both will trot out some old tactics as another inter-state series kicks off tonight.

Just about everything has to go right for a team to win one of these clashes, but there are three key battlefronts on which game one will be decided.

You never forget your first time, but you may want to

The pressure that comes with the Origin arena is not to be understated, but even the greatest players were debutants once upon a time.

It would be unfair to tar a player as not Origin-ready after one game (Blues coach Laurie Daley certainly knows something about bad first impressions), but with the opening game so pivotal to deciding the series, there is no time for a feeling-out period.

Queensland rookie Corey Oates is a devastating ball runner and has established himself as an elite winger, but he has had injury issues to start the year and is not immune to defensive lapses (as exposed in the final play of regulation in last year's grand final).

Similarly, centre Justin O'Neill is a wily veteran and a safe selection but will be tested regularly as he works out a new combination with inexperienced winger Dane Gagai.

On the other side, Matt Moylan will spend most of the night with his eyes turned skyward, watching Queensland bombs spiralling his way, while winger Josh Mansour and half-back Adam Reynolds will have the defensive issues in their games worked over and over.

Dylan Walker's role is less clear. He is not a utility in the usual sense in that he is not well versed playing anywhere in the forwards. If the Blues suffer a backline injury early, he can enter the game and the team can carry on without losing a step, making the selectors look like geniuses. But short of that, he could spend a long time on the bench and only enter the fray late in the second half to save someone's legs.

No half measures

It is debatable if the Blues have been blessed with an in-play kicking game this good at any point since Andrew Johns retired.

Reynolds has been hit by injuries at the worst possible times over the past few years, but pairing him with James Maloney gives the Blues two elite playmakers on both sides of the ruck.

Maloney has been in sparkling form for the white-hot Sharks, while Reynolds' long and short-kicking game is up their with the best in the league.

With this new pair operating behind a forward pack with a huge size advantage, the Maroons may be starting from their own tryline more often than they would like.

This could leave the Maroons in desperate need of Cooper Cronk's precise boot, but if he cannot rise to the occasion, five-eighth Johnathan Thurston and hooker Cameron Smith - whose kicking, particularly at Origin level, is intermittent at best - may take on a greater share of the load.

The Maroons have the more qualified pair, but Maloney and Reynolds seems like the pair the Blues have been looking for all these years.

The edge will go to the Maroons until one or both of Thurston and Cronk retire, but NSW has a brilliant pair of playmakers for the first time in a long time and an injury to Cronk levels the playing field.

Size or speed

Last year, the giant Blues were supposed to run over the top of Queensland. It did not pan out.

This year, NSW has doubled down on size, including James Tamou, David Klemmer and Andrew Fifita (or about 350 kilograms worth of prop) on the bench in addition to the size of starting pair Paul Gallen and Aaron Woods.

Compare that to the Maroons, who have selected just three props: starters Matt Scott and Nate Myles, with Josh McGuire on the bench.

Last year proved, in the modern NRL, big does not always mean better. But, with players like Fifita, Woods and Tamou, big does not always mean slow either.

Queensland's middle men will have their work cut out tackling in packs like hyenas to bring down their big blue prey, but we know they are up to the task after the 2015 series win.

And, if the NRL's emphasis on quicker play carries into Origin as it should, the relatively diminutive pack of back rowers should be able to thrive even more.

The edge goes to Queensland here as it did last season and look for Morgan to be probing for gaps between giant props late in the evening.

Origin 1 teams:

© ABC Grandstand


Picking a winner in Origin is typically a coin toss and this year is no different, especially in game one with so many unknowns.

What we do know, however, is this Queensland team won by a record margin in the last game between the teams and not enough has changed on either side of the coin to prompt a massive swing in the opposite direction.

Queensland by 4, but let's be honest, no one knows

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