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They're the game-breakers and gun youngsters who could split NSW and Queensland in women's State of Origin on Friday night in a game where winner takes all in 2021.

The Maroons are reigning champions after a 24-18 victory at Sunshine Coast Stadium last year and are on a mission to retain the shield at the same venue but Kezie Apps' star studded Sky Blues outfit will be no pushover.

Queensland's combinations are among their biggest strengths with Tarryn Aiken and Tamika Upton in key positions alongside the experienced Ali Brigginshaw.

NSW has the power in the backline but will need early ball by halves Corban Baxter and Maddie Studdon to make an impact. 

The kicking games from both sides is crucial with the Maroons out-gunning NSW with 488 kick metres to 291 kick metres in last year's win. 

Studdon, Aiken and Upton are among those to feature in NRL.com's star, rookie and X-factor player to watch on Friday night.

Maroons v Sky Blues

Queensland

Star: Tamika Upton

If Ali Brigginshaw was the best player in the NRLW last season then Tamika Upton wasn't far behind.

Upton's game has been hampered since last year's heroics with a stress fracture in her back forcing her to miss most games in the BHP Premiership this year.

Tamika Upton's 2020 season highlights

However, the 24-year-old returned in the final and scored the match-winner with four minutes remaining to clinch the win for Burleigh.

Upton is a big-game player, proven in the past two seasons at the NRLW and Origin level where she's helped guide her side to victory. 

The Blues will need to kick away from her and make her come off the line with limited room. 

Maroons young gun Tiana Raftstrand-Smith.
Maroons young gun Tiana Raftstrand-Smith. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Rookie: Tiana Raftstrand-Smith

Still eligible to play in the under 19s curtain-raiser, Rafstrand-Smith is one of five potential debutantes in the Maroons line-up ready to make her mark. 

She was a standout at the Harvey Norman National Championships last month,  taking home player of the tournament honours and earning a call-up to the senior side.

A cross-code graduate from rugby league nursery Keebra Park High, the teenager has been joined by eight of her Burleigh teammates in camp this week, while coach Tahnee Norris has also overseen her development at club level.

The talented utility has been named in the back row but is also capable of playing in the centres or at five-eighth if required.

Her advantage is she's on debut and a bit of an unknown for NSW. However, the Sky Blues are also likely to identify that and keep her busy all night.

X-Factor: Tarryn Aiken

Tarryn Aiken proved to be the difference in last year's contest with a second-half try and try assist and looks set to cause havoc again on home turf.

Aiken has a potent ability to dummy and run, with her speed causing big problems for tired forwards on the edge.

Johnathan Thurston was the master at Origin level for the Maroons and Aiken is very much turning into the equivalent in the women's game.

In support will always be Tamika Upton, with the pair former touch football teammates, so the Sky Blues will need to be on alert, particularly on their right defensive edge.

Battle for Origin supremacy: Women's Origin rivalry heats up

NSW

Star: Jessica Sergis

All signs point to a strong performance for Jess Sergis is in the Origin arena this year after she was limited on the wing in 2020.

Sergis has played a full season for Helensburgh in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership which has benefited her match fitness.

She produced a standout performance in the recent City-Country game to score three tries in her preferred centre spot in an ominous warning for the Maroons.

The 2019 Dally M Medalist and Golden Boot winner is one of the more dominant players in the game but the Sky Blues will have to get her some early ball if she is to do any major damage.

Sky Blues chase Origin atonement

Rookie: Kennedy Cherrington

The 22-year-old brings swagger and confidence to the Sky Blues and she'll take the game up to the Maroons all night.

Cherrington lit up the NRLW scene last year with her strong carries off the bench but was surprisingly overlooked in the final 17 for the Sky Blues under former coach Andrew Patmore.

Despite being the shortest front-rower in the side, Cherrington won't take a backward step against a Queensland outfit who will need to control the Sky Blues in the middle or face a difficult night.

If the Maroons can contain experienced forwards Millie Boyle and Simaima Taufa they'll go a long way towards retaining the shield.

Maddie Studdon awarded Nellie Doherty Medal

X-Factor: Maddie Studdon

If there was one thing NSW lacked last year it was a player who really took it to Queensland from start to finish.

The return of 26-year-old Studdon at halfback gives Kylie Hilder's team a dynamic focal point in attack and her kicking game will be crucial.

Studdon's partnership with Sharks teammate Corban Baxter came to the fore in the recent City-Country match and the duo will look to control proceedings.

Studdon is also no stranger to playing alongside Keeley Davis and Quincy Dodd at club level, which is another added bonus.