Five big things to watch out for in Origin I

The build-up to an Origin game, particularly an opener, is like nothing else. There's selection outrages, speculation about late team changes, and plenty of other crazy stories - we've already had the Blues' jersey dispute, for example.

But in terms of on-field action, here's five subplots to keep an eye on for Wednesday night.

Too much talent to rotate

Having a surplus of world class middles isn't exactly a problem, but it's going to be interesting to see how the Blues will handle such an embarrassment of riches.

Both Junior Paulo and Payne Haas are huge minute men for their respective clubs, Cameron Murray plays close to 80 minutes every week for Souths, while Yeo rarely gets a rest for Penrith. When you add in the wild card in Tevita Pangai Jr, it's going to be interesting to see how Brad Fittler can get all of his star forwards on the field at the same time.

There's a huge chance that Pangai is used in the same way he was in arguably his finest moment in the NRL back in the 2021 preliminary final against the Storm - as a one-man wrecking crew in a short stint. If that's the case it makes the water a little bit less muddy, but it's going to be interesting to see how Fittler uses his rotations.

Queensland putting faith in the future

The selection of Dane Gagai has been a foregone conclusion for the Maroons for nearly a decade. Since debuting in the 2015 decider, the Newcastle outside back has played in every single Origin match - but it looks like Billy Slater is ready to go in a different direction, with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow preferred in the backline.

The myth of 'Origin Gagai' was often overstated, and his club form much better than people gave him credit for at times, but there was definitely some elements of truth to it - and regardless of struggles for the Knights this season, most people assumed he'd be back in a Maroon jumper regardless. Perhaps his tough afternoon against Connor Tracey last Saturday in Coffs Harbour was the catalyst for his omission, as he looked every bit his 32 years of age at times.

But where Gagai may be nearing the end of his career, his club teammate Kalyn Ponga still has probably a decade of footy in front of him. And you would have thought that given he was the best player on the park during the 2022 decider, he would have enough credit banked to be selected despite a tough year with both an inability to stay on the field, and a positional switch to five-eighth. Instead, Queensland have opted to go with Reece Walsh who has been absolutely lights out for the Broncos and almost inarguably the best fullback in the competition this year.

There's always arguments for and against picking representative teams on form rather than reputation, but leaving Ponga out is an extreme example of the former. We'll see what happens.

80 minute Api, or a temporary fix

Queensland's rotation between Ben Hunt and Harry Grant has been so successful that it prompted a desperate Anthony Griffin to move his million-dollar halfback to the No.9 role at club level in a bid to spark something in the Dragons. And while it's clear that Hunt's best role is still in the halves, he's shown an incredible aptitude for dummy half duties at Origin level, and has gelled perfectly with the Storm superstar in terms of sharing the workload.

Which is why it's slightly curious that the Blues, with two world-class hooking options of their own, opted to leave Damien Cook out entirely. Api Koroisau is more than capable of playing eighty minutes if he has to, but he's at his best when he's injected into games midway through the first half - as he was in the preliminary final and grand final last year. Cook is having his best season as a Rabbitoh since 2018 and has been in every Brad Fittler team since the latter became coach, so to see him left out entirely and instead leave makeshift dummy half duties to Nicho Hynes, Cameron Murray, or someone else, is a bit of a risk.

New-look forward pack for Maroons

With Josh Papalii's representative retirement, Kurt Capewell left out due to indifferent club form, Felise Kaufusi currently suspended and Jeremiah Nanai missing half the season due to his indiscretions, Queensland were forced to do some tinkering to their engine room.

Of the group of Queensland props and back rowers who started a game in last year's series, only 2022 Wally Lewis Medallist Patrick Carrigan, and Lindsay Collins, remain as starters, with Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Rueben Cotter instead named on the bench for this game.

Tom Gilbert graduates to a starting role after debuting on the bench in last year's decider and it will be interesting to see if the team as it stands is what we get on Wednesday night. Plenty of Broncos fans believe Tom Flegler is more effective coming off the bench, so it wouldn't be a huge shock if Slater opts to swap he and Fa'asuamaleaui around on gameday.

As it stands, with Fa'asuamaleaui, Cotter, and Rabbitohs' firebrand Jai Arrow on the bench, there'll be no slowing down in terms of physicality and aggression for Queensland throughout the 80 minutes.

Every Hynes option on the table

While the selections of Josh Addo-Carr and Tom Trbojevic could be viewed as 'gambles' to an extent due to their fitness, neither is going to be scapegoated if the Blues lose.

Rightly or wrongly, Jarome Luai is a lightning rod for criticism whenever either the Blues or Penrith have had rough games in the past couple of years - you could have mounted a genuine case for any of he, Hynes, or Cody Walker to wear the No.6 jumper, but Fittler has stuck with the Panthers connection for now.

Luai has the runs on the board in terms of success but there were plenty of drums banging for the reigning Dally M winner to be given first crack in 2023 after the Blues came up short last year. Not only will it be interesting to see what happens after the game if New South Wales lose, but it'll be fascinating to see how Hynes is injected into the game at all. Does Fittler opt to put him in the halves if the game is tight down the stretch? Could he be deployed in a Michael Morgan-esque free role, or, as mentioned early, even slot in at dummy half? Any of the three aren't beyond the realms of possibility.