3rd November 2020, 09:25 | nrl
Australian coach Mal Meninga had been expecting to be facing off against Wayne Bennett in Leeds this week but the pair have now joined forces to plot Queensland’s bid to regain the State of Origin Shield from NSW.
Bennett and Meninga, the most successful Maroons coaches in 40-years of Origin, answered an SOS ahead of the series opener at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday after Kevin Walters was appointed to the Brisbane Broncos job.
Meninga had spent more than 12 months planning for the first Kangaroo tour since 2003 and at the time that details of the Ashes series were announced Bennett was in charge of England - a role he relinquished to Shaun Wane in February.
With the Kangaroo tour cancelled due to COVID-19, Meninga was available to assist Bennett with Queensland’s campaign and the pair will try to inspire an inexperienced Maroons team to victory in the first Origin series staged at the end of the NRL season.
“We were supposed to be in England preparing for the second Test at Elland Road in the Ashes series, which we haven’t had for so long,” Meninga said.
“That would have been fantastic but I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Wayne in State of Origin and we are looking forward to the series.
“We have got a talented bunch of players and they are all passionate about the Queensland jersey because they grew up watching successful Queensland teams.”
Bennett has won five Origin series with the Maroons in three separate stints from 1986-88, 1998 and 2001-2003, while Meninga oversaw nine series triumphs in 10 years from 2006 to 2015.
The Blues have won the last two series and are favourites against a Queensland team missing the likes of Kalyn Ponga, David Fifita, Michael Morgan and Valentine Holmes, while Josh McGuire, Joe Ofahengaue and Corey Oates were overlooked for selection.
However, the Maroons thrive on being underdogs and Bennett has named eight debutants for Origin I.
Among them is centre Brenko Lee, who signed to play in the Queensland Cup this season and is now playing for Queensland on the game’s biggest stage after an off-season training stint in Melbourne culminated in an NRL grand final win.
NSW also have three debutants, including Kangaroos five-eighth Luke Keary, Parramatta captain Clint Gutherson and giant Eels prop Junior Paulo.
Paulo, who has played for Samoa, is one of eight members of NSW’s 27-man squad eligible for a Pacific nation, including Tonga winger Daniel Tupou and Samoa five-eighth Jahrome Luai.
Queensland have 10 players with Pacific island heritage in their 27-man squad, including Papua New Guinea wing sensation Xavier Coates and teenage Samoa forward Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
The match will be the first Origin played in Adelaide and the South Australian Government has allowed a 50 per cent capacity crowd of 26,700 to attend, while the teams are flying in and out on Wednesday from their bases in NSW and Queensland.
The players and coaching staff will remain in a biosecurity bubble for the duration of the series and travel directly to and from Origin II at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on November 11 and Origin III at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on November 18.
Game One is live on Sky Sports Main Event on Wednesday from 09:10am.
1. James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
2. Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters)
3. Clint Gutherson (Parramatta Eels)
4. Jack Wighton (Canberra Raiders)
5. Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm)
6. Luke Keary (Sydney Roosters)
7. Nathan Cleary (Penrtih Panthers)
8. Daniel Saifiti (Newcastle Knights)
9. Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
10. Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels)
11. Boyd Cordner (c) (Sydney Roosters)
12. Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons)
13. Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles
14. Cody Walker (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
15. Payne Haas (Brisbane Broncos)
16. Cameron Murray (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
17. Angus Crichton (Sydney Roosters)
Coach: Brad Fittler
1. AJ Brimson (Gold Coast Titans)
2. Xavier Coates (Brisbane Broncos)
3. Brenko Lee (Melbourne Storm)
4. Dane Gagai (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
5. Phillip Sami (Gold Coast Titans)
6. Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm)
7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c) (Manly Sea Eagles)
8. Christian Welch (Melbourne Storm)
9. Jake Friend (Sydney Roosters)
10. Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders)
11. Felise Kaufusi (Melbourne Storm)
12. Coen Hess (North Queensland Cowboys)
13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Melbourne Storm)
14. Ben Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons
15. Lindsay Collins Sydney Roosters)
16. Jai Arrow (Gold Coast Titans)
17. Jaydn Su’a (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Coach: Wayne Bennett