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New coach, new captain, new look team: can NSW halt Queensland’s one-way traffic?

<span>Nicho Hynes warms up during a New South Wales Blues training session before Game 1 of the 2024 State of Origin series</span><span>Photograph: Jason McCawley/Getty Images</span>
Nicho Hynes warms up during a New South Wales Blues training session before Game 1 of the 2024 State of Origin seriesPhotograph: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

New South Wales open a new era at Accor Stadium on Wednesday night when Michael Maguire takes charge of his state for the first time. Yet there are questions over whether the changes the coach has instituted will be enough to fundamentally change a course that has flowed in Queensland’s direction for the better part of two decades.

Over the last 18 series, the Maroons have hoisted the State of Origin trophy 14 times. An incredibly even competition for the first quarter-century of its existence, it has been virtually one-way traffic for the Maroons.

Related: State of Origin 2024: the big themes shaking up this year’s series

Magurie has not been shy about change, something that stands in stark contrast to most of his predecessors. Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley were highly reluctant to change how the Blues prepared and who was on the inner circle, while Brad Fittler fell into incumbency conservatism by the middle of his tenure after achieving some early success by being fearless with change.

The team has shifted away from its traditional base in Coogee to a more distraction-free preparation in lockdown in the Blue Mountains. James Tedesco was dumped from the team and the leadership, though has earned a reprieve on the former when replacement Dylan Edwards went down with an injury. He has given Nicho Hynes his first real crack in the Origin halves after his treatment last year. He stunned the state by axing Api Koroisau and putting Isaah Yeo on the bench with Cameron McInnes to start.

Selections never please everyone but it is his calls in the key positions – as well as his most unusual bench – that will determine how the Blues fare. The impact will not only determine the result on Wednesday night but across the entire series. By being so bold with his selections early, he has left himself very little room to move, at least without creating a significant amount of collateral damage.

The performance of Hynes in the opener is going to be central to the result. He has had an astonishing club career since moving to the Sharks three years ago but as a sensitive person, the hurt caused by his misuse and disposal at Origin level last year left a lasting impact on him. His club form last year was impact and his ability to cast off last year’s demons are going to be critical to New South Wales success, with his kicking game and organisation essential to any hopes the Blues have.

Tedesco’s dropping turned out to be short-lived when he was rushed into the team following a quad injury to Edwards. Always a bundle of energy, the biggest issue he has had in the prior few years has been overplaying his hand with the dominant Nathan Cleary. He looks a much better natural fit with Hynes. Knowing this could be his last chance at this level, he will leave it all on the field.

The biggest selection shock across both teams was the decision to play Reece Robson over Koroisau. The call said plenty about how Maguire is setting his troops up for this game. It is defence first, defence second and defence third. He has no intention of getting the Blues into a shootout. He has looked for reliable, hard–working types led by Robson, captain Jake Trbojevic and new lock Cameron McInnes. Filling the Blues bench with four similar forwards, Maguire is all-in on reliability. If anything goes wrong with a back, there is no viable plan.

Origin is typically won by winning the middle and by having the dominant kicking game. So it is little surprise that the Maroons enter the 2024 series and Wednesday’s opener as warm favourites.

While much has been made about the injuries NSW have suffered, the Maroons have a long list of outs that include five-eighth Cameron Munster, Dally M medal winner Kalyn Ponga and forwards Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Tom Flegler and Tom Gilbert. That is a significant toll to overcome but Queensland nevertheless start the series with a more stable team.

That has certainly been part of how Queensland have managed to remain so successful for so long. Sometimes less is more. The Maroons have a smaller pool to choose from but they have turned that over the 44-year history of Origin into a major positive.

The biggest hole Billy Slater has had to fill is the loss of Munster. The star No 6, much like Wally Lewis generations before, has always found that little bit extra in the Origin arena. While replacement Tom Dearden lacks some of Munster’s game-breaking ability, he lacks nothing in the toughness and heart that Queensland prize more than anything. His heroic covering tackle on now-Maroons teammate Selwyn Cobbo earlier in the season stamped Dearden as a player that would not let his state down.

Of all the Queensland selection calls, Cobbo’s is the most interesting. He will be used off the bench in that rover role that the Maroons have used so successfully in the past. A big body, he will be deployed in the forwards around half-time while providing genuine cover for the entire backline.

D-day has arrived for the Blues. They have changed coach. They have changed captain. They have a new look team. It still may not be enough though to get a Maroons team that just has winning in the blood.