State of Origin one is just around the corner, and all eyes are on Origin referee Ashley Klein. Much has been made of Klein’s officiating of the ruck interpretations, as the forward packs of both sides are filled with enforcers and hard men. Both Queensland captain Billy Slater and NSW counterpart Brad Fittler bristled at questions about the referee during the pre-game press conference. They denied contacting the NRL or referees’ boss Jared Maxwell regarding Klein, although Fittler reached out to Maxwell last year before the series began.
Last year’s series saw Fittler express concerns about Queensland’s perceived infringements, and that narrative ramped up further after the Maroons‘ game one win. The Blues were bullied in the 2022 series decider, and this year’s team features combative rookies Hudson Young and Tevita Pangai jnr. Last year, Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans remonstrated with Klein during game three, saying, “all game, all series, they’ve taken us out off the ball.” However, Cherry-Evans was more diplomatic this year, insisting that there was no extra pressure on Klein.
Meanwhile, Fittler confirmed that Blues debutant Nicho Hynes would be deployed at hooker at some point to give starting No.9 Api Koroisau a breather. Hynes has played in the middle, halves, centres, fullback, and covers a lot of positions. Slater side-stepped questions about exploiting Hynes’ inexperience at dummy-half, saying there’s more than one way to skin a cat in our game. NSW trained with Stephen Crichton on the left as Latrell Mitchell‘s replacement, and Slater expects them to start as named, but also expects the unexpected.
As always, the State of Origin brings with it a lot of speculation and anticipation, and all eyes will be on the players and the referees when the first game kicks off. The referees play an important role, but it’s ultimately on the players to deliver the result.