Big step for Townsville
Origin switches to Townsville
The State of Origin series opener has been switched to Townsville after the recent Victorian COVID-19 outbreak.
After NRL officials met with the Victorian government on Monday it was decided to relocate the match to Queensland County Bank Stadium.
Melbourne will now host games in 2024 and 2026. NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said relocating to Townsville was the best option for the game.
"We’re operating in a pandemic and our absolute priority is ensuring the continuity of the competition and our major events," he said.
"Townsville has the lowest risk of a COVID outbreak impacting the game and the least financial fallout of the available venues.
"Townsville is also a new, state of the art venue, with the capabilities to host an event with a global audience like Origin, placing it ahead of alternate regional locations.
"Despite the challenges, COVID has also presented some unique opportunities, and playing Ampol State of Origin in Townsville for the very first time is another one of those occasions. The passion North Queenslanders have for our game is something special and we’re really excited to reward the region with an Origin game.
"I understand some fans will have wanted a neutral venue but the reality is we are working within a pandemic and we have to make decisions that ensure Origin proceeds as scheduled and with the lowest financial impact on the game."
It will be the first time an Ampol State of Origin fixture won't be played in an Australian state capital apart from the exhibition match played in California at the end of the 1987 series.
Switching to Queensland means the Sunshine State gets the advantage of hosting the first two matches of the series with game two set down for Suncorp Stadium on June 27.
Sydney's ANZ Stadium will host game three on July 14.
Blues coach Brad Fittler was philosophical about this prospect when asked by the media on Monday morning.
"It is what it is, I’m not part of that decision making so we have to prep," he said.
"It will make it that little bit sweeter [if NSW win].
"All this stuff that comes with State of Origin, we’ll worry about that later."
Maroons mentor Paul Green was cautious about his team being lulled into a false sense of security.
"It is good to have the home crowd on your side, it creates atmosphere but it doesn't put points on the board for you," he said.
"If it is in Townsville, I think it will be enormous. I think everyone will embrace it from that point of view. But they don't make the tackles for you or score the tries so it's about making sure we prep well and get our performance right."