Rugby League great Braith Anasta has slammed Queensland's massive State of Origin coup, after it emerged on Monday afternoon that Townsville had been handed hosting rights for Game I on Wednesday week.
The Origin opener was scheduled to be played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 9 on but Victoria's Covid-19 situation left league officials scrambling to find an alternative venue.
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Townsville firmed as the most likely destination over the weekend, with the Cowboys' Queensland Country Bank Stadium ending closer to get the green light on Monday.
Reacting to the reports on Sunday night, Anasta said it would be a "disgrace" to give the Maroons home state advantage for the opening two matches.
“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 (to NSW).
“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?”
Maroons great Corey Parker agreed that the situation would offer his former side a massive advantage in the best-of-three series, with Game III to be held in Sydney on July 14.
“The home ground advantage is enormous, they will come from absolutely everywhere, it’ll be a packed house, down into Suncorp for the second game," Parker said.
NRL CEO reveals why Townsville picked for Origin opener
On Monday afternoon, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo confirmed that Townsville would be hosting Game I, and explained the reasons behind the decision.
"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."
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