Queensland seals controversial Origin I switch

Townsville has been confirmed as the new venue for the State of Origin series opener, with the original MCG fixture scrapped due to COVID-19.

Melbourne will now host Origin games in 2024 and 2026.

The $290 million Queensland Country Bank Stadium, opened just last year, has been confirmed as the new venue for the June 9 Queensland vs NSW fixture, with the NRL locking in the switch this afternoon. It is a major boost for the Maroons, with the second match to be played at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

The Queensland Government made a lucrative bid to host Origin I at the 25,000-capacity Townsville venue, getting in before a NSW Government attempt to have the game played at Parramatta’s Bankwest Stadium.

Calls for the match to be played at a neutral venue, such as Canberra or Adelaide, have not come to fruition. NSW coach Brad Fittler said that having the first two matches in Queensland would make it “infinitely harder” for the Blues to reclaim the Origin shield, after a shock 2-1 defeat last year.

Despite handing a significant advantage to Queensland, 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.”

Abdo said the game was excited to create history in Townsville.

“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,” Abdo said.

“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.

“I want to thank the Queensland Government, in particular Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, for her ongoing support of rugby league. We partnered together to have 130,000 fans at Magic Round and we are looking forward creating a special Origin next Wednesday.”

Abdo also thanked the Victorian Government and Visit Victoria for their support of Ampol State of Origin. 

“We’re very disappointed that we can’t open the series at the MCG. We really wanted to bring a major event to Melbourne after everything Victorians have been through over the last year,” he said.

“Public safety is our absolute priority and given the current outbreak, it remains uncertain whether we could host a mass gathering in Melbourne next week.

“We’re excited to confirm that Origin will return to Melbourne in both 2024 and 2026.”

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