FORMER Maroons greats say this year’s Origin series will become a survival of the fittest with the historic November campaign to present the ultimate mental and physical test for NSW and Queensland players.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the NRL to restructure the 2020 season schedule with the Origin series to be shifted from its traditional June-July timeslot and played in November after the NRL grand final.
The unprecedented move will provide a number of challenges for the code’s elite talent.
With the Origin clashes to be staged after the NRL decider, some Blues and Maroons players may go more than a month without a genuine hit-out if their teams fail to reach the playoffs.
Then there’s the climate. The Origin series, used to the traditional chill of league’s winter months, will instead be played on the verge of summer, which will test the conditioning of the 34 combatants, particularly in the humid environs of Queensland’s Suncorp Stadium.
Former Queensland lock Billy Moore says the ability of NSW and Queensland players to adapt to the unique situation could be a decisive factor in which state wins this year’s series.
“An end-of-year State of Origin series is uncharted waters,” said Moore, who played 17 Origin games between 1992-97.
“The winner of this year’s series could simply come down to who adjusts better to the season schedule and how many players are left standing for selection by November.
“It’s going to be a tough ask for our elite rep players.
“A lot of guys go into the finals season and grand final with their bodies battered and bruised and some players just holding on until they get end-of-season surgery.
“It will be an even bigger test for players who don’t feature in the finals. They could go into an Origin game cold with no match fitness so that will be a concern – how do they compete in the game’s toughest arena?
“I’m just hoping the Queensland (NRL) teams do well this year and there’s a lot of fit Queensland guys in the finals.”
Queensland selector Darren Lockyer says the November campaign could convince the NRL to temporarily put the premiership on ice and stage a stand-alone, mid-season Origin series next year.
“This will be a big test for Origin players,” said Lockyer, the 36-game Maroons icon.
“For some guys, if their teams don’t make the finals, they may not play for five or six weeks and then they are thrown into the Origin arena.
“It will be interesting to see how Origin works for three weeks straight.
“I guess we will know more once we play the series and see how it pans out.
“If it works from a physical-workload perspective and there’s been a lot of interest around the concept from around the country with ratings, it starts to strengthen the argument for Origin to be played as a stand-alone series mid-year.
“People talk about how Origin impacts clubs during the year but I think it provides another layer of challenge through the season.
“The one positive is when the rep players are away, it gives young guys a chance to make their debuts. Often the teams impacted the most are the ones at the top of the ladder, but I think there is some equalisation for the competition.
“I am happy to see Origin played during the middle of the year and when an underdog team wins there’s a bit of theatre attached to it, like last year when the Baby Broncos beat the Sharks on their patch at Cronulla.
“We’ve been forced into this situation (a November Origin series) with coronavirus so it’s worth trying to see what the positives and negatives are.”