State of Origin 2021: NZ Kiwis star Adam Blair disputes pinnacle-of-league claim before series opener

Former NZ Kiwis captain Adam Blair is reluctant to buy into State of Origin's claims as the pinnacle of rugby league.

The Australian interstate rivalry kicks off live and free to air on Three on Wednesday night, with champions Queensland again underdogs against New South Wales for the series opener at Townsville.

Across the Tasman, the annual 'mate v mate' showdown is regarded as the game's highest level - even higher than international league, where Australia Kangaroos tend to dominate.

But Blair, who played 51 tests for New Zealand before retiring last year, doesn't necessarily buy into that narrative.

"You've got to play in it to comment about it," admits the former enforcer, who became a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to league in this week's Queen's Birthday Honours.

"I've never played in the game. I love watching it because it's a spectacle and a rivalry - and a hate rivalry, so they go out there and bash the hell out of each other for 80 minutes and more.

"I've never played in it, so I can't say it's the pinnacle of rugby league. For me, representing my country is the pinnacle and I love playing that, because we always have that kind of rivalry when we play against Australians.

"We hate them and we just want to get one over them."

Blair, who will provide analysis for Three's coverage of the Origin opener, admits he'll be quietly pulling for the Maroons, who confounded their 'worst ever' tag to take out last year's decider in Brisbane.

"My wife's a Queenslander, my boys are both born in Queensland," the former Brisbane Broncos forward tells The AM Show. "I played Queensland 16s, funny that, and I love the Queensland boys.

"The underdog tag suits them really well, but it's going to be a tough game up in North Queensland. The new stadium is fast, and New South Wales have a team that will spread the ball and try to run them off their feet.

"But I feel like New South Wales don't pick players in their right positions, so when it comes to the game, anything can happen."

Tune into Three or ThreeNow from 9:50pm (NZ time) Wednesday for free-to-air coverage of the State of Origin opener, or join us for live updates