Excitement is building among locals and visitors alike in Townsville, with the countdown to the series opener of State of Origin well and truly underway.
- Townsville’s stadium, which opened last year, will host regional Queensland’s first State of Origin match
- Fifty-three players from Queensland’s north have played for the Maroons, with Kyle Feldt joining the list tonight
- Townsville businesses are trying to take advantage of the influx of visitors to the regional city
This will be the first Origin game played at the regional city’s new north Queensland Stadium, with the change coming due to a late move away from the MCG due to Melbourne’s COVID-19 outbreak.
The 28,000 tickets for the showdown sold out within minutes.
State of Origin Game I is scheduled to kick off at 8:10pm AEST.
Free-to-air TV network Channel Nine will begin coverage of the game at 7:00pm.
The ABC News State of Origin blog will also begin at 7:00pm.
Former Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen, one of 53 players from Queensland’s northern regions to grace the State of Origin stage, is tipping Townsville’s historic night to have a profound impact on the region.
“It’s why they built the stadium … Elton John opened it (in February 2020), but an Origin in Townsville — I never thought it would happen,” Bowen said.
Cowboys winger and Townsville product Kyle Feldt will become the 218th man to wear Maroon and inspire the next generation of North Queensland talent to follow in the footsteps of Billy Slater, Nate Myles, Colin Scott, Sam Thaiday and Paul Bowman.
“I remember [North Queenslanders] Nathan Fien, Johnny Doyle and Johnny Buttigieg playing for the Maroons … I thought if they can do it, I can do it as well,” Bowen said.
“Michael Morgan and Feldty both went to Iggy Park [Ignatius Park College]; kids can see them coming from their own backyard and now playing here in Townsville for the Maroons.”
Bowen and other former Origin players from the north of the state will have a pre-game reunion on Wednesday before 29-year-old Feldt makes his debut — nine seasons after making his NRL debut.
“He’s learnt how to be consistent, we all know how talented he is, but just that consistency,” Queensland mentor Paul Green, who coached Feldt at the Cowboys for six-and-a-half seasons, said.
A noted leaper with good finishing skills, Green admitted they would look to play to Feldt’s strengths against rival winger Brian To’o, who is about 20cm shorter.
“He’s good under the high ball; it’s what he brings to the team and I want to play to people’s strengths,” Green said.
Local Miella Sartori to sing national anthem
As preparations are finalised, it’s not just the players who are getting excited for the game.
Tonight’s national anthem singer, 18-year-old Miella Sartori, told ABC Radio Brisbane she got the news that she had been chosen to sing at the event last Tuesday.
Ms Sartori, who is from Townsville, said although she would be wearing black tonight, she had her nails done with a small dot of maroon paint as a nod to her home state.
Matt Marshall, a fan and former rugby league journalist, is flying in from Brisbane as a special event for his cousin’s 40th birthday.
Mr Marshall added he had been “lucky” to score the last two beds in a two-star hotel before the tent city was erected.
Origin a sweet opportunity for local business
Elsewhere in town, local bakers grabbed the opportunity to get creative, providing a sweet treat for fans to sink their teeth into ahead of the match.
Ottos staff worked throughout the night to produce 1,000 Maroons doughnuts.
“Our busy little bakers they start at midnight, so they fry and then they glaze — we have a big team that jumps on board for something like this and they will just produce through the night so when you wake up in the morning you can have one of these,” said Renae Summers from Ottos.
“We look for any excuse to make up a doughnut so what better than origin to bring a maroon-glazed doughnut featuring a cane toad.”
But Blues-themed sweet treats are a little harder to come by in the north Queensland city.
All Townsville businesses are hoping the Origin celebrations will be an opportunity to showcase the city after a difficult 12 months.
“It’s the best for every small business, it’s about supporting local Townsville and getting behind it,” she said.