It’s probably the most anticipated match of the State of Origin’s 31-year-history, but one thing’s for sure – the stage is set for an epic encounter between New South Wales and Queensland when the pair meet in tomorrow’s decider.
Despite an apparent resurgence in belief in the Blues – from the players as much as the fans – Queensland are still favourites to take a sixth consecutive title.
One overwhelming motivating factor the Maroons will be the desire to send Darren Lockyer, a veteran of 35 origin battles, out on a winning note.
But raw emotion will only get them so far and they have to be on top of their game to overcome a much-improved Blues outfit that has progressed immeasurably since Ricky Stuart took charge.
On paper Queensland shade it over NSW when it comes to the halves – despite Mitchell Pearce and Jamie Soward‘s undoubted growth into genuine Origin-quality players over the course of the series the class of Lockyer and Thurston remains undeniable, as does their ability to perform when the chips are down.
Billy Slater‘s presence on the Origin stage – although less spectacular than usual – is formidable and will have an attacking edge over his Blues rival Anthony Minichiello. Although Stuart’s decision to pick Minichiello as Josh Dugan‘s replacement for game two was questioned initially, his form and match-winning try proved he still has what it takes to perform at this level.
He will have his hands full however, trying to contain the ever lively Jarryd Hayne.
There’s no doubting the quality of either backline, but it’s the ability to perform under pressure where Queensland have the edge.
The forward battle promises to be brutal and more evenly-matched however.
Once again Ricky Stuart has decided to select a mobile forward unit led by skipper Paul Gallen playing out-of-position at prop.
While it proved a masterstroke in game two, there’s no doubt that Mal Meninga will have come up with a ploy to prevent the Blues giving them the runaround this time.
With Matt Scott, Petero Civoniceva and Sam Thaiday providing plenty of brawn up front for the Maroons, the Blues’ contingent of Tim Mannah, Beau Scott and Ben Creagh will have a sizeable task on their hands.
The Blues do edge it in the bench stakes however although it is clear that Stuart has place most of his eggs in the one basket with the inclusion of Anthony Watmough and Luke Lewis as forward cover. He does have the option however to call upon heavy hitter Keith Galloway if he feels he is losing the power battle.
Verdict: Queensland by two points – the stage is set for the Maroons, who won’t want to send skipper Lockyer out on anything less than a high.
New South Wales
Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Justin Hodges, Greg Inglis, Jharal Yow Yeh, Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston, Matthew Scott, Cameron Smith, Petero Civoniceva, Nate Myles, Sam Thaiday, Ashley Harrison.