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State of Origin Game 1 won't be happening in COVID-hit Melbourne anymore.
The NRL has confirmed that the Origin opener between the New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons will be moved to Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
It comes after latest spike in coronavirus cases forced Victoria into a state-wide lockdown.
"We're operating in a pandemic and our absolute priority is ensuring the continuity of the competition and our Major Events,'' NRL CEO Andrew Abdo 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.
"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."
Game 1 between the two rival states is normally played out on neutral ground with Melbourne and even Adelaide most recently hosting the colossal game.
It was announced that the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground in Victoria would be the battle ground for Game 1 of this year's series, but a COVID-19 surge in cases has now put a halt to that altogether.
#BREAKING: #Townsville will host the State of Origin opener at its Queensland Country Bank Stadium.- 9News Queensland (@9NewsQueensland) May 31, 2021
It comes as Melbourne's original claim to hosting was overthrown by the state's #COVID19 outbreak.
The series will kick off next Wednesday, June 9. #9News pic.twitter.com/m031orpi8g
QueenslandCountry Bank Stadium in Townsville has stepped up to play host, but news of this change in venues hasn't sat well with everyone - mainly the die-hard New South Wales supporters.
When initial rumours surfaced that Queensland could host two games - one in Townsville as well as Game 2 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane - Blues great Braith Anasta voiced his displeasure with the move.
"It's a joke. It's a disgrace," Anasta told Fox League's Big League Wrap.
"It's all about Queensland. It's a huge disadvantage.
"It should be (neutral territory). You have to go up to Townsville, you have 25,000 crazy Queensland supporters. We've been there. When you play against Queensland in Queensland it's a huge advantage. They thrive off it, so why would you give them that advantage?
"They need to (find an alternative). Don't let it happen. It's a disgrace."
Well, you can imagine Anasta probably won't be best pleased after hearing this latest news.
Featured Image Credit: NRL
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