Game three couldn?t have been set up better. With the Blues dominating game one, and Maroons returning the favor in game two, the series is wide open. Both games one and two have shown us that the game is really won and lost in the forwards. We saw as the forwards gained momentum the backs ran riot. The real test will be in an even contest, Lockyer and Hodgson, Tallis and Simpson, Langer and Johns, Berrigan and Barrett, Tuqiri and Tahu all going head to head in an even contest, with both forward packs firing and damn near killing each other. The thought is enough to make a league fan drool, and fans from other codes jealous. Lets just hope both packs of forwards fire and give the fans something to talk about.
The front row battle is mouth watering, a battle of the titans. In the Blues corner you have Dragons Jason Ryles and Luke Bailey, two of the biggest meanest mothers in the game. Bailey has stood up over the last 4 weeks to announce himself as one of the best front rowers in the modern game. He tore a Maroons pack apart in game one, and was one of the few to play well enough to hold his head high in a well beaten pack after game two. His partner in crime Jason Ryles is no stranger to the rep arena even though he is making his origin debut. Ryles shapes as the man to push for the tag of best prop in the game in the future. The Maroons aren?t without their own front row firepower, Broncos duo Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva pack down in Queensland?s engine room. Webcke is the best in the business, his work rate is phenomenal, if Ryles wants to be the best, this is the man he has to beat. Civoniceva makes a return to Maroons pack after missing game two with a knee injury. The man they call Pedro has been in fine form this year, and like Bailey was a stand out in a beaten pack for game two, Pedro was a stand out for a well beaten Maroons outfit in game one.
The front row isn?t complete without the lads in the number nine. Maroon Peter John Marsh and Blue Danny Buderus could be excused for feeling like potato guns packing down in the scrums flanked by battleship cannons. These two players are dynamite out of dummy half, both players have the ball skills of half backs and the football brains to go with them. Both players will look to get their forwards working well, and their dummy half runs will take pressure of their respective forwards.
The back rows for each side have both young and experience. Packing down for the Blues in the decider are Eagle Steve Menzies, Knight Steve Simpson and Rooster Luke Ricketson. Menzies brings a wealth of experience to the Blues forwards, and is a notable big match player. His form for the Eagles this year has earnt him this spot and he wont let anyone down. An in form Simpson partners Menzies in the second row, and will prove a real handful for the Maroons backs as he loves to run wide, and the fact he is one of the best hole running forwards in the game will make him a real danger man. Locking the scrum is Ricketson, the unsung hero for the Blues so far this year, and for the Roosters. Ricko will go about his business as he does every week and every game, he wont let anyone down and will get plenty of game time. The maroons back row looks mean, with Broncos Gorden Tallis and Dane Carlaw partnered by Bulldog Darren Smith. Gordzilla is without a doubt the best second rower in a game, he brushes defenders off at will, runs holes as well as any back, and he hits hard in defense. Gordzilla?s partner in crime is the extremely large Carlaw, built like a tank, Carlaw is huge, he carries defenders several metres in tackles, and haze the size and strength to play front row. One of Claw?s biggest assets is his speed and acceleration of the mark, meaning he hits the defensive line at speed, making him more than a handful. Locking the scrum is Smith who showed why he should never have been played as a centre in game one of the series. Smith proved to be the missing link in the forwards for game two, he tackled like a man possessed, and attacked with the same vigor. He repaired a hole that the Blues exploited in game one, and made the option of sending the little men up the middle a mistake as he just kept knocking them over.
Off the bench the Blues will call on Eels pair Nathan Hindmarsh and Michael Vella, as well as Roosters star second rower Bryan Fletcher. Vella can be a handful at times, and the former winger come front rower could give the Blues some spark from the bench with his off loading and great running game. Hindmarsh is some what a mystery to many, whilst playing for the Eels he is a menace, terrorizing opposition defensive lines and scoring brilliant individual tries. Yet in the rep arena he has never played in the same manner, now is his chance to prove that he can foot it in the rep arena, otherwise he could find himself on the way out with the likes of Simpson, Kennedy, and Fletcher performing well at this level. Fletcher is one of the best second rowers playing, and despite a sluggish season last year and this year, he is still a danger man. He always seems to stand up in these type of games, and he could be a match winner if he doesn?t have to do to much hard work when he comes off the bench.
Coming into the match off the bench, the Maroons will have Bronco veteran Andrew Gee, and Bulldogs partners in crime Steve Price and Travis Norton. Gee brings the aggression to the table, he?ll come on and no matter what the situation roll his sleeves up and get stuck in to the other forwards. Gee is there to add spark, not a word usually associated with a 31 year old player, but when a guy comes off the bench and really gives it to the opposition forwards physically it inspires and lifts player, no matter how old the player is. Price had a blinder for the Maroons in game two, and the charge down king will be looking to do the same here. He adds mobility and brings a good offload with him from the bench, making him a valuable Maroons player. Norton has solved the Maroons obvious lack in ball skills in the forwards from game one, and gave the Maroons another attacking option. This can only spell trouble again for the Blues as the more attacking Norton can do, the more dangerous he is, the more pressure he takes off Lockyer and Langer, which means one thing for the Blues, trouble.
All in all it?s two very evenly matched forward packs, both teams have some big lads packing down, plenty of agility, tones of pace for some big men, and plenty of skills. If I had to pick a team with the edge, it would have to be the Maroons, Webcke, Civoniceva and Tallis give them an edge in the starting team. Whilst Price, and Norton give the Maroons more attacking options from the bench. This will be a closely fought battle, and if both forward packs play to their abilities and strengths it?ll be an origin game that could go down in history as one of the best ever.
To Be Continued.......