New Maroons coach Paul Green is excited by the prospect of coaching his first State of Origin game and believes his team is ready for the task despite carrying the underdog moniker.
The Maroons have had injuries interrupt preparation, but Green is confident the composition of his team will be able to cover the league’s crackdown on head-high hits.
Gold Coast Titans fullback AJ Brimson has had multiple strong training performances and has overcome his injury issues to play in the series opener.
Green believes Brimson’s flexibility will be invaluable off the bench as the Maroons manage the minutes of other returning stars such as hooker Harry Grant.
“I think he can do a job for us there through the middle,” he said.
“His strengths as a player can be through there from dummy half and then it is insurance for us as well for anywhere through the outside backs as well.”
Grant is slated to play “anywhere between 40 to 80 minutes” of game time while Cameron Munster trained strongly again and should be fine to run the game out.
Centre Dane Gagai also trained with the main group after suffering from tonsilitis over the weekend and is expected to play.
With Kalyn Ponga sidelined with a groin injury, Maroons utility Valentine Holmes will assume the fullback position for the series opener, and Green believes he is ready to carry that responsibility.
“I think his form has been getting better recently and I think 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 as well.”
The recent league wide crackdown has been hotly debated in recent weeks, with many hoping it doesn’t ruin the spectacle of State of Origin.
Green is one that doesn’t want to see the game decided by the referees, despite the obvious need for player safety.
“I think we would hate to see an Origin decided on an innocuous incidental contact to the head,” he said.
“It’s hard enough playing with 13 and you have the best players out there, if teams get down to 12 or even 11, I think it is probably going to go a long way to deciding the outcome.
“Safety aside, I don’t think we would like to see an Origin game or series decided like that.”
State of Origin encounters are also bruising and tough and Green believes it is a legitimate concern that the new crackdown could take away that aspect.
“I think a part of Origin is the collisions, the contact and the aggressive side of it, all legal I am talking about their too,” he said.
“I think that’s what makes Origin special so I would hate to see that go out of the game.”
In his first Maroons camp as head coach Green has thoroughly enjoyed the week and getting back into coaching without being involved in the week-to-week grind.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the week, great bunch of blokes and we have really enjoyed all parts of the camp,” he said.
“Whatever we have had to do they have done it well, whether it be the fan day or different functions we have had to go to it’s been a really enjoyable week.
“For me coaching it’s been great to be a part of but that will count for little tomorrow night come full time and we need to make sure we get the job done there.”
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Despite an injury-interrupted preparation, the Maroons will only field one debutant, North Queensland Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt, unlike the Blues, who will field three debutants in the series opener and Green is interested to see if they all can stand up to the pressure.
“Different people have made debuts where they have killed it and some guys have found that they just haven’t got themselves in the game,” he said.
“It’s certainly a step up and until you probably experience it it’s another level up playing Origin.”
The Maroons main area of concern is in the blues settled backfield and he was quick to quash that Blues winger will be a liability in their defence.
“He’s been a great player at club level, and he’s been one of the form wingers of the competition obviously that’s why he got selected.
“So, I’m sure he is going to be looking to do what he does well so it’s about us trying to counteract that and limit his opportunities.
“I think he has had mixed results under the high ball so that’s an area that I think both of our wingers are good under the highball so either side there I think there is an opportunity for us.”
Green is also wary of Manly Sea Eagles fullback Tom Trbojevic who will take up a role in the centres on Wednesday night, a role that proved fruitful in his last State of Origin appearance in 2019.
“He had a great night out the last time he played there, he scored a couple of tries and was a real threat,” he said.
“He’s been tremendous at club level so if he brings that form into the game, we will certainly have to be on our game.”
“He’s used to playing fullback so he is used to being around the ball and that is probably where he feels most comfortable whether that happens in Origin, I’m not sure but hopefully we will be ready for it.”
The Maroons will be looking to replicate last year’s game one performance which was instrumental in securing last year’s series victory.
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