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Origin switches to Townsville after Victorian COVID outbreak

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said fairness for both State of Origin teams was factored into the decision to move next Wednesday's series opener from Melbourne to Townsville.

It was announced on Monday afternoon that Queensland Country Bank Stadium, which opened last year as the home of the Cowboys, would be the venue for Origin I.

Victoria's COVID-19 outbreak meant it wasn't feasible to play at the MCG but the iconic stadium will now host games in 2024 and 2026.

Advice from the NRL's biosecurity experts was that tropical Townsville carried the least risk in regards to the pandemic.

Abdo explains why Origin was moved to Townsville

The Maroons will now enjoy a home-state advantage in games one and two but Abdo said Blues coach Brad Fittler and the NSWRL were accepting of the ARL Commission's call.

"The primary driver for this [switch to Townsville] is the continuity of the competition and the least amount of biosecurity risk given all the variables that we face at the moment," Abdo said.

"In terms of football fairness, there are multiple elements to that. We alternate every year [with] NSW and Queensland being guaranteed a live game.

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"NSW had a live game last year and they'll get a live game next year. So for us, it was important to make sure there was at least one Queensland live game in the rotation."

Fittler said on Sports Sunday that there had been a late bid for Bankwest Stadium in western Sydney to host the Origin clash on June 9.

"We've had terrific interest and strong support from all of our government partners across the country and the NSW Government, we have a terrific relationship with them," Abdo said.

"They were absolutely stepping in to help us through this, but in the end, there were multiple factors and the Commission has made a call."

Abdo added the Queensland Government's preference was to play the game in Townsville rather than holding consecutive Origin fixtures at Suncorp Stadium.

"We're just over a week to go so we need to think about what's best for the continuity of the competition.

"But we also need to think from the perspective of selling out Townsville and getting fans in an area that have never seen a State of Origin game before.

"I think that playing a game in in Townsville is a far better outcome than playing two matches at Suncorp Stadium."

Fans who bought tickets for the match at the MCG will be automatically refunded by Ticketek.

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Abdo said the financial blow to the game would be limited.

"With the support of the Queensland Government, we will fortunately be in a position where we will be able to recover some of the financial hit that we've taken, particularly around cancelling the game in Melbourne on such short notice," he said.

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."

NSW prop Payne Haas, who plays for the Broncos, was not fazed by going into Maroons territory for the first two matches.

"I think it'll be nice up there actually. I'm pretty keen on the Queensland weather," Haas said.

"This time of year, it's not too hot or humid, it'll be good and could open the game up a bit more too. It's normally pretty dry this time of year in Queensland so if it is up there I'm pretty comfortable with it from that game style [perspective]."

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Tickets for the Townsville tussle will go on sale to Cowboys members, Maroon members and Blatchys Blues at 1pm on Wednesday. General admission tickets will be available at 3pm on Wednesday from $49 via

Blues forward Cameron Murray said the game-one venue was "not something I'm thinking about or have paid much attention to".

"We're not too worried about it. If we have to go up there then so be it. It doesn't change how we're going to play."

Front-rower Daniel Saifiti added: "It wouldn't matter if it was at the local park on the Central Coast to me, we just want to play footy.

"It's obviously a big boost for Queensland fans to get two but we're going in with the mindset if we can jag one or both games we know we're coming home to a big crowd in Sydney for game three."

North of the Tweed, the Queensland players were thrilled.

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Kalyn Ponga, who spent three years in Townsville at the Cowboys, said: "I think that stadium to have the State of Origin there will be humming. They will be laughing up there, they’re probably drinking already and partying already."

Maroons forward added: Jai Arrow: "Yeah, it’s definitely [an advantage] and I have no doubt. I speak to people who play for NSW and people that play for Queensland when you play here at Suncorp it is definitely a massive advantage.

"You run out here in the cauldron and you have so much maroon around in the stadium yelling and screaming that you can feel the vibration in the field underneath you.

"That’s a pretty special feeling and is definitely a massive boost for us that we get to take it to a Queensland country town in Townsville and get those Queensland lunatics behind us and screaming for us and cheering us on."


There will be a members pre-sale for North Queensland Toyota Cowboys members, with details specific timings as follows:
• Full season members: 1pm – 3pm Wednesday 2 June (Club 95, Diamond, Platinum and Gold Star members)
• Multi-game, one game and supporter members: 2.30pm – 3pm Wednesday 2 June (Super 6, Thrilling 3, Home Star, Dual Cowboys Maroons, Distant Star, Super Star and Rising Star members)
General admission tickets will be available at 3pm on Wednesday from $49.Secure your seat to witness the power of Origin’s rivalry at NRL Tickets

Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.