What a climax to the most unusual Origin series in 40 years.
It doesn’t get much better than a series decider at Suncorp Stadium in front of a full house of screaming Maroon supporters as New South Wales endeavour to pull off a three-peat. History tells us Queensland is the champions of series’ deciders, especially in Brisbane where they rarely lose.
But this is no ordinary Origin series with three games in two weeks. Queensland took the opening game 18-14 on the back of a brilliant second half comeback after trailing the Blues 10-0 at half time.
But the Blues bounced back with a big win in Sydney to send the series into a final 80 minute battle that will fully test the character, courage and determination of every play on the field in the decider.
NSW were disappointing in Adelaide but great in Sydney where halfback Nathan Cleary took control and dictated to the Maroons. Queensland were very good in Adelaide and very bad in Sydney.
They lost their key general Cameron Munster early in Sydney and after that lost their way completely. But back at Suncorp Stadium with the deafening roars of their fans creating an electric atmosphere Queensland’s players will lift as they always do playing at home.
Queensland dominated Origin with a record 8 series wins in a row and now NSW believe they can inflict some long-term pain of their own with a Blues winning streak.
Former NSW captain Paul Gallen has thrown fuel of the fire like he did when he played, branding the current Queensland side the worst in 40 years of Origin.
Queensland coach Wayne Bennett and his assistant Mal Meninga will draw on that sledge but in the end, it will be that famed, if often disputed Maroon passion, that drags them over the line which it has done many times previously.
NSW will do everything in its power to make sure Queensland do not add another of their underdog victories to the list of upset wins over 40 years of interstate clashes.
The last time the Blues won a series decider in Brisbane was in 2005 when Andrew Johns had one of his best series. But I have to stick with Queensland at home given their Suncorp Stadium decider record and the fact that they will have a mad-maroon mob in their corner.
Place a 3+ Leg same game multi bet on this weeks games of the NRL and if 1 leg fails, you will get up to $50 back in bonus bets. Terms and conditions apply.
Queensland Maroons v New South Wales Blues
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane | 8:10 PM (AEST)
Queensland Maroons – The maroons were soundly beaten in Sydney last week but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they can’t win the series tonight. A week is a long time in rugby league and while they have to reverse a 24 point deficit, which to many might seem impossible, they will be confident they can win.
To Queensland, overcoming the odds in Origin is nothing new – they’ve done it many times over the 40 years of Origin. It’s a position they relish and are most dangerous.
Coach Wayne Bennett has made a number of changes, some forced by injury including the late withdrawal of Brisbane winger Xavier Coates with a groin injury. He will be replaced by another high-leaping winger Edrick Lee, who will play on the right wing.
Bennett will also hand young Corey Allan his Origin debut with his biggest selection gamble of the night, pushing Valentine Holmes to the wing.
Holmes has score 8 tries in five games on the wing for Queensland and Bennett pinned his faith in Allan this season when Latrell went down injured.
Bennett knows Allan’s game well, but is it too big of a risk in a series decider to toss a 20-year-old into such a tough position?
The one thing in Allan’s favour is that it will be a friendly environment playing in front of a mostly wild and vocal 52,000 maroon fans who’ll carry their team through those tough minutes and when the game is on the line.
Queensland have a mighty record in Origin deciders played in Brisbane and with Bennet, Mal Meninga and general tactician Neil Henry you can bet they will be battle-ready and prepared to the minute to play the game of their lives.
The big in for the Maroons though is their running five-eighth Cameron Munster. Munster has been spared any contact work at training this week after suffering a heavy head knock which forced him off the field in the opening minutes of game II. It was blatantly obvious how much Queensland lost their way after Munster was taken from the field.
He is such a quality competitor who competes on every play and his return will be a huge difference to Queensland. He is the x-factor for Queensland, the type of player who can make things happen, create some special moments — a genuine match-winner and a great foil for Daly Cherry-Evans who benefits from having him less responsibility.
Christian Welch is back in the front-row with Dunamis Lui going back to the bench, another positive.
Welch is a big addition in the middle. He bends the defensive line and alongside Josh Papalii offers Queensland some much needed go forward through the middle third.
Bennett has added another strike player with the find of 2020, Harry Grant, to make his Origin debut off the bench in what will be a key role. He will ease the load on hooker Jake Friend again and there is some talk the talented utility could even start the game.
Grant showed his class during the NRL season and Bennett is banking on him getting some dashes out of dummy half and making things happen with his quick and accurate service late in each half. All up it gives the Queensland pack and nice look with ample bench back-up as fatigue and pressure builds up.
New South Wales Blues – The Blues are warm favourites and rightly so after winning Origin II in Sydney last week in such emphatic fashion. But coach Brad Fittler knows the past demons that will confront his players in Brisbane.
NSW has not won an Origin decider since 2005 and all the pressure is on them to win given one of their former captains, Paul Gallen has labelled their opposition tonight as the worst Queensland team in 40 years. The way they won in Sydney though with Nathan Cleary controlling the game off a dominant forward performance was very impressive and there is no doubt they deserve to run out favourites.
Most of the 52,500 fans will do their best to make it uncomfortable the Blue’s players but Fittler will mentally prepare them for the hostile reception they will get and for the fact that Queensland will play for the full 80 minutes, regardless of the scoreboard. Cleary and Cody Walker was brilliant in Sydney with hooker Damien Cook creating a little more space for his playmakers and himself.
You can measure the talent in the NSW 17-man squad by the fact that Fittler has left Melbourne’s Clive Churchill grand final medal winner Ryan Papenhuyzen out of his squad.
Now that says a lot about the Blues side. Big Payne Haas and Queensland colossus Tino Faasumaleaui were both sin-sinned binned in game II in Sydney and it will take a lot of self-control when they come together in the Cauldron in Brisbane.
Cleary will be much more heavily targeted in this game and fullback James Tedesco may find middle-metres a bit harder to get. The key for the NSW players will be to get ahead Queensland early and not let the atmosphere the big crowd will generate intimidate them or give their opposition a lift.
Cody Walker was tremendous for the Blues in game II and he needs a free rein from Fittler to attack either side of the park. NSW outsmarted Queensland a few times from scrum wins in Sydney by stacking sides and they will attempt to do the same in Brisbane.
These games are usually won upfront and the Blues will no doubt back themselves to out-muscle the Maroons in what should prove to be one hell of a battle as the big men go at each other ferociously for 80 minutes.