Maroons behind DCE


TOWNSVILLE: Ask Daly Cherry-Evans’ Queensland teammates about him and they all end up saying the same thing. They can’t wait to run out behind him in tonight’s State of Origin opener in Townsville. It’s a typically low-key indication of the Manly halfback’s standing, worth appreciating given his long and winding relationship with rugby league in his home state. Making his NRL debut for the Sea Eagles in 2011, Cherry-Evans earned the ire of those north of the border in 2015 when he backflipped on a big-money deal to join Gold Coast. He soldiered on at Manly, returning for Queensland in 2018 after a three-year Origin absence and seizing his second chance. He was named Maroons captain in 2019 but his finest moment came in 2020, leading an unfancied outfit to a series win. “On behalf of the worst ever Queensland team, thank you very much,” he said on the podium after last year’s Origin upset. His comment ensuring he received the warmest of welcomes when the team touched down in Townsville on Monday. “That doesn’t really surprise me because growing up in Mackay I got to watch him and he was always that bloke no one really talked about,” Cherry-Evans’ teammate Dane Gagai told AAP. “It wasn’t like ‘oh he’s going to go on to do big things’. “But just his determination and his work ethic and professionalism is obviously what sets him apart from other players.” – AAP

Pack to carry weight left by Papalii in Origin arena: Arrow

TOWNSVILLE: Jai Arrow believes the time has come for the Maroons to create their own era of Origin dominance as he promised the entire pack would carry the load left by suspended prop Josh Papalii in tonight’s series opener in Townsville. Papalii’s absence is an enormous blow to Queensland title defence, his 18 Origin appearances since 2013 leaving the Maroons outgunned in the experience stakes with just 32 Origin games between the entire pack against New South Wales (NSW) with 41 games under their belt. Of the Maroons’ 32 games half can be attributed to two players — Felise Kaufusi (nine) and Arrow (seven) — with the rest of their big men only entering the Origin arena in the past two seasons with some yet to even win a game. The Maroons are also much younger than NSW in the forwards, with an average age of 23.7 compared to the Blues’ 25.8. David Fifita, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Moeaki Fotuaika are just 21, while Harry Grant and Jaydn Su’A are only 23. Kaufusi is the oldest player in the pack at 29, while Arrow (25) and Christian Welch (26) have many years ahead in the maroon jersey giving Queensland the nucleus of a strong pack for many years to come. “It’s definitely our time I suppose and it’s definitely a new era,” Arrow said. “I feel like I’m one of the old ones at the moment because there is obviously a lot of young boys that have come in and you’ve got Su’A, Tino, Davey, Moe they’re only young kids which is exciting.” – NRL

Canberra prop accepts ban over high shot

TOWNSVILLE: Josh Papalii’s shoulder to the jaw of Canterbury’s Tui Katoa put him out for three weeks, including Origin, but he’s copped the ban “on the chin”, so to speak, as he returns to the field this Saturday. The Raiders international believes he paid a heavy price for the high contact crackdown which gained momentum in Magic Round but knows there is no point kicking stones about the three-game punishment which included the State of Origin series opener. “I’m all good, I had a three-week holiday there,” Papalii said. “I got to spend more time with family, did a bit of running as well and got to watch footy from the outside. “I am (refreshed), pretty pumped. Just a shame I can’t play on Wednesday but it is what it is, that’s footy, I have to learn how to adapt to the new rules and just get on with it.” On the tackle itself, Papalii said while he was surprised to be sent off rather than sin-binned, he understood head contact was illegal even before the crackdown and needed to keep the contact lower. We get taught to hit under the ball and not in the head, I just caught him a bit too square,” he said. “He was falling down and I was coming up and my shoulder made contact with the head.” – NRL 

Coach Green hopes there are no unnecessary sin-binning

TOWNSVILLE: Queensland coach Paul Green admits it’s only natural players will look to milk penalties in a State of Origin opener he hopes isn’t decided by an unnecessary sin-binning. Green insists discussion this week around players staging for penalties during the NRL’s crackdown on high contact hasn’t been a focus of his maiden campaign in charge. But, after both captains attempted to call a truce on any sort of gamesmanship earlier this week, Green admits he wouldn’t be surprised to see it tonight in Townsville. “I don’t think anyone likes seeing that, but it’s going to happen,” he said. “There’s a lot on the line, players play for an advantage.
“I’m not telling them to do that, the players I don’t think want to do that but in the heat of the battle (they might).” Green said he would return a missed call from Jared Maxwell after rival Brad Fittler had also sought out the referees’ boss to seek clarity on the style of officiating Origin teams should expect. Both are aware any contact with the head could result in a sin bin, although Green hoped there would be a degree of leniency employed tonight. “We’d hate to see an Origin decided on an innocuous, incidental contact to the head,” he said. “It’d be very difficult to play Origin if teams get down to 12 or 11; that will go a long way to deciding the outcome.” – Agency

Queensland confirm Holmes at No.1

TOWNSVILLE: Queensland coach Paul Green has confirmed Valentine Holmes will play fullback in tonight’s series opener and bench utility AJ Brimson will likely spend time at hooker. There were question marks over Brimson’s fitness after a linger knee injury stopped him from getting through a session last week. However, Green said the utility back is good to go. “He got through today’s session really well so he’ll take plenty of confidence out of that. He’ll be right,” he said. Brimson has the speed and skill to cover any position in the backs but he’ll be taking on a new role in Green’s side. Harry Grant will wear the No.9 jersey but given he is fresh off a hamstring injury — and hasn’t played 80 minutes at hooker since last September — there’s concerns over whether he’ll get through an Origin game. Green said we can expect Grant to play “anywhere between 40 and 80 minutes” and is confident Brimson will be fine filling in if need be. “I think he can do a job for us there through the middle,” he said. “His strengths, I think can be used through there at dummy half and then it’s insurance any where in the outside backs for us as well.” Holmes has been the man tipped to shift to fullback after Kalyn Ponga withdrew from the squad due to injury. Asked about what Holmes can bring to the fullback role, Green said: “I think his form is getting better and he has a good, strong carry out of the back end, which is important in Origin and a bit of x-factor around the footy.” Maroons fans can sleep easy knowing that star five-eighth Cameron Munster has “been good all week” and will be “fine,” while Dane Gagai trained yesterday and is “feeling a lot better” after is bout of tonsillitis. As for the rest of the team, Green confirmed they will be 1-17 with Coen Hess the 18th man and Ben Hunt their 19th man. He also didn’t shy away from the fact that the Maroons have one particular advantage over the Blues. Much has been made over the chances of New South Wales debutant Brian To’o’s reliability under the high ball.  Coach Brad Fittler has already said he has a plan, but Green acknowledged it’s an “opportunity” for his team no matter what side To’o lines up on. “He’s been one of the form players of the competition obviously, that’s why he got selected.” – Fox Sports