More than any team, the Warriors are essentially sidelined from the State of Origin experience.
The club contributed just six players to the interstate extravaganza in its first 26 seasons, with only Queensland props Steve Price (12 matches) and Jacob Lillyman (10) featuring in more than four Origins during their Auckland stints.
So it’s novelty for Warriors fans to see one of their own emerge as the talking point ahead of game two.
After being on the receiving end of a 50-6 beatdown in the series opener, Queensland has turned to Warriors rookie sensation Reece Walsh, who will be just 18 years and 352 days old on Sunday, to help rescue its campaign.
Ben Ikin (1995), Brad Fittler (1990) and Brett Dallas (1993) were younger when they debuted, but no teenager has been introduced to arguably the game’s toughest arena under more scrutiny or with the expectation of playing such a key role as Walsh.
Walsh becomes the youngest fullback ever to grace the Origin stage, breaking the record set by Karmichael Hunt, who was five months short of his 20th birthday when he debuted in the Maroons’ No.1 jersey in 2006. But Hunt already had 62 NRL games under his belt; Walsh has played just seven times in first grade after being blooded by the Warriors two months ago.
REECE WALSH’S ORIGIN SELECTION BY THE NUMBERS
- Fourth-youngest Origin player ever (after Ben Ikin, Brad Fittler and Brett Dallas)
- Youngest Origin player since Ikin in 1995
- Second-youngest player to start an Origin match (after Dallas)
- Youngest fullback in Origin history
- Third-least experienced player in Origin history in terms of first-grade games (after Ikin and Willie Carne)
- Seventh Warriors Origin rep
- Third player to make Origin debut from the Warriors (after Kevin Campion and PJ Marsh)
- First player to debut in Origin from the Warriors since Marsh in 2002
- First Origin rep to make first-grade debut for the Warriors
- Second Warriors player to start an Origin in the backline after Brent Tate
Where will Reece Walsh end up on this list? pic.twitter.com/yv0yyOk9w9
— TAB Sport (@TAB_Sport) June 22, 2021
It’s a gamble and has split opinion across the game, fans and pundits debating Walsh’s rapid elevation to Origin level like few other selection controversies. But with their attack stagnant in game one and livewire No.1s Kalyn Ponga and AJ Brimson unavailable, the precocious Nerang Roosters junior proved irresistible to the Maroons.
In seven appearances for the Warriors – despite finishing on the winning team just once – Walsh has lit up the competition. He already boasts four tries, eight try-assists, seven line-breaks and 25 tackle-breaks.
There’s some juicy odds on offer for Warriors fans keen to back Walsh to get in on the tryscoring action. He’s $17 to bag the first try of the night, $3 in the Anytime Tryscorer stakes, $7 to cross for Queensland’s opening try and $11 to score two or more tries.
Walsh will be looking to join NSW custodians Jonathan Docking (1987), David Peachey (2000), Brett Hodgson (2002), Anthony Minichiello (2003) and Brett Stewart (2007), and Queensland’s Brimson (2020) as the only fullbacks to score a try on Origin debut.
Five Origin first-timers have found the try-line in the past four Origin matches. In game one this year, Blues winger Brian To’o became the first player to notch two tries on Origin debut since Darius Boyd in 2008.
Queensland is $3.85 to level the series and is getting a 13.5-point start – the longest outsiders Origin has ever seen – despite being at home. But there’s more reasons to be confident in the Maroons forcing a decider than the injection of a ball-playing freak barely out of high school.
Just eight of the 23 series in the NRL era have not gone to a decider. NSW has sealed the deal inside two games just twice in the past 17 campaigns.
Origin history also favours teams bouncing back from game one blowouts. Since 1990, every side that has lost the series opener by 14-plus points – most recently Queensland in 2017, losing game one 28-4 – have gone on to square the ledger.
But the Maroons’ biggest advantage is the Suncorp Stadium factor. They have a 37-19-1 record overall at their spiritual home since 1980.
The Blues have won just two of their last 14 at Suncorp, losing the last four straight.
Queensland has also won the last seven game two encounters in Brisbane; NSW’s last game two victory in enemy territory was in 2000.
Feeling as confident in the Blues as $1.25 favourites giving away a 13.5-point start now?