NSW v Queensland: Origin I Preview
NSW VB Blues v Queensland XXXX Maroons preview
The Holden State of Origin beast just seems to keep getting bigger every year and in 2015, for the first time since 2006, it is the New South Welshmen who head in looking to retain the shield and the Queenslanders who are the challengers.
There was an outpouring of emotion from the Blues when the fulltime siren sounded in Game II last year, sealing their narrow, tense, incredibly hard-fought series win.
Second-year coach Laurie Daley had pulled off a masterstroke and the former Blues five-eighth refuses to rest on his laurels; with captain Paul Gallen (hip), key man Greg Bird (suspension) and 2014 co-player of the series, NFL-bound Jarryd Hayne (also the Blues most-capped player last year) already unavailable, Daley has nevertheless discarded a further 31 games of experience by overlooking Luke Lewis and Anthony Watmough.
While Watmough and his Eels have been down on form this year the non-selection of Lewis was more of a surprise, and was actually contributed to by Gallen's injury meaning Daley wanted two props on the bench to help cover Gallen's workload.
He has handed a debut to Bulldogs giant David Klemmer on the bench and back-rower Josh Jackson in the starting lock role, recalling in-form tackle-buster Andrew Fifita and Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce as a five-eighth in place of Josh Reynolds, with Pearce to line up alongside last year's halfback Trent Hodkinson.
Josh Dugan takes over from Jarryd Hayne at the back with Josh Morris fit again and able to take his place in the centres, and Eels centre Will Hopoate taking the contended wing spot ahead of Kangaroos flanker Alex Johnston and Canberra fullback Jack Wighton.
Maroons coach Mal Meninga has largely stuck solid with the side that came roaring back last year to swamp the Blues in the Game III dead rubber. Matt Scott missed that one with injury while bench utility Daly Cherry-Evans will miss this one with injury while Ben Te'o (European rugby) and Josh Papalii (not selected) are the only others to have made way. The 18th and 19th men from that game, Josh McGuire and Michael Morgan, will make their Origin debuts to start this series off.
While the Blues had some early disruptions to their squad with Gallen and Bird being ruled out, it's been nothing but smooth sailing since the side was actually named. It has been the polar opposite for their opposition however; both centres, Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges, have hardly trained while fullback Billy Slater has had injury concerns and utility Daly Cherry-Evans was named and joined camp before being ruled out with an arm injury and replaced by Morgan.
Inglis in particular is of concern, having been hospitalised with a virus, while Hodges (cut foot) and Slater (shoulder) are not thought to be in doubt for Wednesday.