Maroons roll the dice
Queensland named its team for State of Origin Game I and went with several risky choices with three debutants.
David Fifita, Joe Ofahengaue and Moses Mbye will get their first caps, while Daly Cherry-Evans was selected as captain despite not playing for the past month through injury.
Perhaps the biggest gamble was picking Dragons playmaker Ben Hunt – a halfback – at hooker.
With Kalyn Ponga and Fifita, the Maroons have gone young with the 21-year-old and 19-year-old only having made a combined 62 NRL appearances.
The battle between Broncos forwards Fifita, Ofahengaue and Matt Gillett against club teammate – NSW big bopper Payne Haas – in the middle should be fun.
Coach whisperer controversy
Talk leading into Game I has centred around Queensland coach Kevin Walters’ controversial use of mind coach Bradley Charles Stubbs, better known as the ‘coach whisperer’.
Stubbs worked with Michael Maguire when South Sydney won the 2014 NRL grand final, with Trent Robinson when the Roosters won the premiership last year, and with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, England boss Eddie Jones and former Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold.
Stubbs’ methods are about programming the mind, creating a winning mentality and using the media to manipulate messaging.
Set of Six understands Stubbs, who this column knows well, has been rattled by the intense spotlight on him by News Limited and has left his Gold Coast home to go into hiding to escape media intrusion.
The ‘coach whisperer’, who is actually a Souths fan from Sydney, will have the last laugh if the Maroons win this year’s series.
Anthem row expands
NSW duo Cody Walker and Josh Addo-Carr kicked off a fierce debate when they revealed last week that they won’t sing the national anthem at Origin I.
The pair, both Aboriginal, believe it does not accurately represent Indigenous people or their families.
Their stance has been supported by Queensland centre Will Chambers, who said he will also boycott the anthem.
Retired rugby league great Johnathan Thurston has come out in support of their views.
“I am a proud Australian man and an indigenous man as well,” Addo-Carr said.
We’re Australians too. Why can’t we recognise the indigenous people of Australia? How hard can it be?”
Parramatta preys on Souths
Parramatta pounced on a weakened South Sydney side to notch its much-needed sixth win of the year.
The Eels have been inconsistent and had lost three in a row, including a 64-10 whooping at the hands of Melbourne, going into this one. But the Bunnies proved the perfect opposition as they were missing seven players through Origin duty and injury.
Parramatta duly took advantage and got the win its coach Brad Arthur craved.
Panthers pick up
Like the Eels, neighbours Penrith is finally starting to show some ticker after grabbing a second win on the bounce after edging Manly 15-12.
The Panthers’ season so far has been terrible and they are languishing in 14th place on the ladder.
But slowly they are showing some signs of revival and it was a gutsy win without the services of halfback Nathan Cleary.
The star of the show was rookie forward Liam Martin. Young back-rower Martin set up Penrith’s first try and scored its second to ensure it was smiles all round for the Chocolate Soldiers.
Bateman back and firing
Set of Six is a big fan of the English Super League and always keeps a close eye on the NRL’s Pommy contingent.
Canberra man John Bateman made a huge impact on his return to the field after a month out with a broken eye socket.
Bateman, who came back from his injury earlier than expected, was simply inspirational as he helped the Raiders overcome the Bulldogs 12-10.
The former Wigan star made two offloads, 126 running metres and scoring a special solo try, exhibiting some cute soccer skills, to land the Raiders the W.
Bateman is as tough as nails and his gritty, in-your-face displays have quickly earned a soft spot in the heart of coach Ricky Stuart and all Canberra fans.