State of Origin III Preview
Queensland v New South Wales
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Wednesday, July 8, 8.15pm
You can have your Game of Thrones families at war, a My Kitchen Rules kitchen catastrophe and the best room reveal The Block has ever seen; State of Origin III is the standout television event of 2015.
Millions of viewers across Australia will tune in for our series finale and bear further witness to a 35-year rivalry that intensifies with every meeting.
Starting way back with a stiff arm from Artie Beetson on his Eels teammate Mick Cronin in 1980 through raucous fans throwing cans onto the field, mishaps on horseback, miraculous recoveries, controversial decisions and even a lone streaker, drama and Origin have always been intertwined and this latest chapter has been no different.
Broken bones, dastardly back-room dealings and all manner of charades have surrounded both camps before 80 minutes of ferocity that will see 17 players lauded for their bravery and 17 others left to ponder the most miniscule of missed moments.
The Maroons may have held the upper hand for much of the past decade but the brash young Blues from New South Wales will stride onto the Suncorp Stadium turf on Wednesday night hell-bent on proving that last year's series win was more a changing of the guard than a one-off aberration.
Maroons skipper Cameron Smith will join Darren Lockyer as the most capped Origin player of all time when he leads the team out in front of the sell-out crowd in his 36th Origin match while a victory could signal the end of Justin Hodges' glittering Origin career.
Conjecture in the Blues camp has been dominated by the hand surgery to Robbie Farah that necessitated a rescheduled flight to Coffs Harbour and the suspended Michael Ennis waiting in the wings to be cleared to take his place.
For the first time in 19 years New South Wales have announced an unchanged 17 after triumphing in Game Two but with Farah's right hand still heavily bandaged post-surgery, it appears unlikely it will remain that way.
Just as it appeared Origin couldn't get any bigger we head to Suncorp Stadium with a capacity crowd ready to set a new benchmark for total crowds at a three-match series, the current mark standing at 215,833 who attended in 2013. A crowd of 44,199 on Wednesday night will be enough to better that.
The stage is set, the cast is ready and the audience is piling in; welcome to the most anticipated television event of 2015.
Watch Out Maroons: Much of the attention north of the border is being concentrated on the big bald Bulldog on the bench, but it is a follicly blessed Tiger who will start the game that is the man they must first stop. Questioned as to whether he was up to Origin when he debuted as a 22-year-old in 2013, Aaron Woods is putting together a series display that warrants consideration of him being the No.1 Aussie front-rower currently running around. Notwithstanding his game-changing try in Game Two, Woods has played an average of 54 minutes per game in the series thus far, racking up 160 metres per game with a tackle efficiency rate of close to 92 per cent. He makes more than 60 metres after contact per game, continually bending the Queensland defensive line and giving his halves the platform they need to dictate field position.
Watch Out Blues: One of the most admired qualities in the great halves is the ability to make those around them look good and there are few better at that than Maroons halfback Cooper Cronk. Unless he is slotting a late field goal to clinch a series win under extraordinary pressure – as he did three years ago – Cronk's contribution is more equated by the sum of its parts rather than individual brilliance. Unlucky not to be named Man of the Match in Game One after scoring a try and kicking yet another match-winning field goal, Cronk's influence since making his debut has contributed enormously to Queensland's recent success. In the three games that Cronk has missed since 2010 (including Game One last year where he left the field after just nine minutes), the Maroons have gone winless; with Cronk in the team they boast a record of 11 wins and three losses. It's no coincidence.
Key Match-up: Greg inglis v Josh Dugan. In the battle for territory in Origin there is nothing more important than a strong start to your set and these two men will be both the providers and beneficiaries of their team's ascendancy in that regard. The move of Inglis from centre to fullback gives the Maroons a body at the back to more than match that of the Blues custodian who has averaged 157 metres from 31 carries in the opening two games. Playing in the centres in the first two games of the series, Inglis has averaged four tackle busts per game and if he can produce a few more on kick returns it will have the potential to change the game. Dugan has more tackle breaks (64) than Inglis in the NRL this season but Inglis's ability to provide for his teammates is illustrated by his six more try assists compared to Dugan. The momentum these men generate for their respective teams will be absolutely critical in determining the Origin champs for 2015.
History: Played 104; Queensland 55, NSW 47, Drawn 2. For the past 35 years these two teams have been going at it each other and with just seven whitewashes since the concept went to a three-match series in 1982 there is very rarely much between them. This will be the 51st Origin match played at Suncorp Stadium/Lang Park with the record at the ground currently standing at 31 wins for Queensland, 18 for the Blues with one draw in Game Three, 1999.
Did You Know: Starting with the first three-match series in 1982, State of Origin has gone to a decider on 17 occasions with Queensland winning 11 of them and New South Wales four, with two drawn games. In the space of their eight-year series winning streak the Maroons were taken to a decider on five occasions with four of those decided by four points or less. NSW won back-to-back deciders in 2004-05 by 22 points, their 2005 triumph the last time they won a decider at Suncorp Stadium.
Match Officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Ben Cummins; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten; Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Brett Suttor; Standby Referee: Matt Cecchin; Standby Touch Judge: Michael Wise.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm.
How We See It: Given Queensland have retained the shield on the two previous occasions that the third game of an Origin series has finished in a draw, perhaps this is when the defending champs from NSW will get one back. Just a single point separated the two teams in Game One in Sydney and all signs point to a similarly thrilling conclusion on Wednesday night as the Blues youngbloods seek consecutive series wins for the first time in a decade. But the Maroons showed how to close out a game in Game One and with Cronk back at the helm the cool heads may just prevail on home soil. Queensland by 2 points.
This article first appeared on NRL.com