Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Dead rubber, dead game? Not when these two states meet. There is still a lot at stake, the Blues attempting to inflict a clean sweep and produce mental scarring on the Maroons that will last a few years, Queensland hoping to avoid the embarrassment of losing 3-blot and have the added motivation of sending champion fullback Billy Slater out a winner. A broken thumb to Greg Inglis hands the captaincy for the first time to Slater in his final Origin, a great honour and Billy the Kid will be inspired to leave one final moment of magnificence on this stage where he has excelled for over a decade.
Injuries have hampered the QLD campaign and game 3 has been no different. On top of GI going down, Dylan Napa is out and the big one, the wunderkind, Kalyn Ponga is out which not only robs this match of star power it’s caused ripples through the state that has brought a seismic shift to the Maroons selection table. The butterfly effect brings the much maligned Daly Cherry-Evans back from Origin exile! Yes you heard right, DCE has been welcomed back into the fold, the Maroons producing a flip flop of monumental proportions. YES he is a member of the squad, NO he isn’t barred from selection… honest… OK things are desperate, go on pick him… YES which was always our position! The Maroons make Vicky Pollard look decisive. Yeah but no but yeah.
Ben Hunt has paid for his brain fart in Origin II kicking the ball dead on the third tackle with James Roberts in the sin bin and the Blues gasping for air by being demoted to the bench. I can only assume if Ponga was fit he’d have been thrown into the 7 jersey because DCE has played off the bench before. It’s a harsh call on Hunt and may rock him mentally, hopefully he rises above it otherwise the Dragons may have issues when Hunt returns to the NRL. The Maroons have abandoned the ‘pick n stick’ policy they shoved in the Blues face for the past 12 years and have changed to ‘pick n flick’. QLD must be careful they don’t turn Hunt into the Mitchell Pearce Origin punching bag NSW did. The Maroons finding it is not easy picking and sticking when you lose panic looks to be setting in north of the border. Cue The Smith’s “panic on the streets of Brisbane, panic on the streets of Rockhampton, Kevvie wonders to himself, can life ever be sane again…”
Speaking of sanity let’s head over to Freddy Fittler and the NSW preparations which have been surprisingly quiet but I assume there’s been a lot of alternative training therapies on offer to enlighten the senses. In the Blues camp their main aim is coming down from space to re-focus after claiming the series in Sydney, that’s the players mind you, Freddy is still floating around in zero gravity orbiting some planet. Focus shouldn’t be an issue as clean sweeps are hard to come by and the opportunity to create history and potentially begin a Blue dynasty sharpens the mind and body to the task ahead. Plus lifting the shield after a loss in front of the 50 NSW fans left in the stadium would be pretty lame.
Despite winning Brad Fittler has made one bizarre change, well it is Freddy, so left field is really his centre. Game two debutant Matt Prior has been axed to make way for Tariq Sims not Ryan James who was in the race with Prior for Reagan Campbell-Gillard’s vacant prop spot. Sims deserves his crack at Origin he’s been one of the Dragons best all season and close to selection for both games but is not a prop. James is Freddy’s voodoo doll constantly pinned in Fittler’s mind games, told to pack bags for game one, then unpack, in pole position for RCG’s spot for game two then leapfrogged by Prior at the last minute, now what should be a simple straight swap turns into a near miss again. Hopefully James’ time will come.
The open free flowing attack encouraged by both coaches, assisted by minimal referee interference and performed brilliantly by the players should continue for game three. QLD have reacted to the pace by pushing Jarrod Wallace to the bench and promoting bench backrowers Jai Arrow and Josh Papalii to starting props improving the Maroons mobility markedly, which will help stunt the speed of Damien Cook and James Tedesco and constant probing by the Blues brothers Jake and Tom Trbojevic. Hindsight is a marvellous thing but Kevvie Walters it is two games too late. Across the paddock the Blues better be on Oates alert, the big horse Corey Oates gets his first taste of Origin action this series via Dane Gagai shifting into GI’s centre spot and Oates could be the game breaker, his charges at high velocity give the Maroons an extra forward, he measures at about 17 hands, and could leave the fatigued NSW pack battered and blue. Gagai meanwhile will have his hands full facing James Roberts on the fast Suncorp track Roberts calls home at the Broncos. After being given the blues by GI, watch Jimmy the Jet take flight leaving Dane gagging on dust.
The Blues need momentum to attack through the ruck and will rely heavily on edge forward the courageous Boyd Cordner, who played a tremendous captain’s knock in Origin II from what he’s been told, after Dylan Napa’s hip sent him into outer space and has now declared himself fit to play and lift the shield, Paul Vaughan whose rugged Origin displays have earned a starting spot, while David Klemmer will come off the back fence to bend the Maroons back, the Klemminator has been one of the Blues best and his battles with Maroons enforcer Josh McGuire are always fiercely contested. Klemmer leading on points in the series will look for a KO and won’t he let Josh know, he’ll delight in his dominance. But the best match up in the series has been in the centres with Latrell Mitchell mauling Will Chambers towering over the Maroon like a colossus and if Latrell continues Will’s chamber of horrors the Blues are a good bet of coming up trumps. Chambers the champion niggler has tried every trick in the book to put Mitchell off but has been slapped down, beat up, kicked to the kerb as Mitchell’s rise to superstardom continues its rapid trajectory.
James Maloney has been the key play maker throughout the series outpointing and outclassing opposites Hunt and Cameron Munster. In tears after finally claiming a series win after years of disappointment in this arena Maloney will want to finish the job off in style, his control of the side and laser sharp goal kicking a major factor in the Blues series victory. QLD will be fired up to send Slater out a winner but whatever the result his legacy is assured, Slater’s deeds forever a part of Origin history. This is Origin this is Suncorp this will be tough and this will be tight. Maloney’s goal kicking may well decide this one again. Queensland beautiful one day faces a blue sunrise the next. Get out the broom the Blues to sweep the series.
NSW by 4