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Three days till Origin III, the decider at Aussie Stadium, and that brings us to part 2 of 3, the backs.
Lining up at fullback for each state are easily the best two in the business. The Blues number 1 will again be Brett Hodgson from the Eels after he was cleared to play. Hodgson couldn?t have had a better or worse origin series so far, after the highs of game one, where Hodgson ran for over 300 metres, to the lows of game two when he punctured a lung. The Blues will look to use Hodgson around the ruck with inside balls and changes of direction, which will make him a real danger to the Maroon, their marker defense will have to wide awake. The Maroons will have the best in the business as their number 1, Broncos star fullback and strike weapon, Darren Lockyer. Lockyer plays a completely different game than Hodgson, where Hodgson is more of a running fullback, Lockyer whilst he can run as well as Hodgson, uses his skills and kicking game to play more of a five eighth style of attack, injecting himself into the line when ever he gets that chance.
Accompanying the fullbacks at the back is a mix, of speed, strength and skill. The Blues have stuck with the same wing pair throughout the whole series, which again sees Knight Timana Tahu and Eel Jason Moodie on the flanks. Tahu has come of age over the last year, and really deserves his spot, he is great in attack, has plenty of toe and would rate as one of the better defenders on the wing. Tahu?s partner Moodie fits the same mold, both are very safe in defense and dangerous in attack. In the past NSW only ever had one winger strong enough to come in and do the hard yards from dummy half to take the pressure off the forwards, this year they have two who can. The Maroons couldn?t have picked two different types of wingers if they tried. Knight Robbie O?Davis is small, agile and very quick, even at his age. Normally a fullback, O?Davis?s defense is sound and under the high ball there isn?t many better, his knowledge of Blues halfback Andrew Johns kicking game will prove O?Davis to be worth his weight in gold. On the other flank is Broncos flyer Lote Tuqiri, the new record holder for point by a Maroon in origin after his 18 point haul in game two. Tuqiri is the strongest of the wingers playing, the biggest and surprisingly he would probably be the quickest as well. Tuqiri is rated as the best winger in the game, and add to that Lockyer and O?Davis at the back, and it gives the Maroons a slight edge on the flanks and at the back.
The centres contest is just as close, with the Blues centre pairing getting the points in game one, and the Maroons in game two. With the season ending injury to Jamie Lyon, Knights centre Matthew Gidley makes a return after sitting out game two. Gidley?s combination with fellow Knights player Tahu could prove a match winner, along with Gidley?s famous flick pass. Gidley?s defense however is one aspect of his game the Maroon could exploit, a defense that has earnt him the nick name ?Turnstiles Gidley?. Blues number 4 Shaun Timmins couldn?t be in better form. Since returning from a knee injury that saw him sidelined for almost 2 whole seasons Timmins has been playing every game like it was his last. Timmins runs like a centre, plays like a centre, defends like a centre, but unfortunately for the Maroons Timmins is built like a second rower making him very dangerous and hard to stop. The Maroons centres contrast as much as their wingers do. On one side you have Bronco Chris Walker, arguably the quickest player in the comp. Walker is explosive, his speed off the mark and his ability in attack, both make him a dangerous attacking centre. Walkers defense like Gidley?s is suspect and could be exploited by the Blues. On the other side you have Shark Chris McKenna, who like Timmins is built like a second rower, but unlike Timmins that?s because he was a second rower. If McKenna plays half as well as he did in game two, he will be very dangerous indeed.
In the halves the battle heats up even more. For the Blues Dragons player Trent Barrett makes a return after missing game two with injury. Barrett?s form to date has been some what patchy, but there is no doubting the ability of the man dubbed ? the face of rugby league ?. Partnering Barrett and captaining the Blues is Knights star halfback Andrew Johns. Johns is ranked as the best player in the world, rivaled only by Maroons fullback Darren Lockyer. Johns running game is rivaled by few players, his kicking game is light years ahead of the game, and his defense is as strong as it gets from a halfback. Johns also has the ability to motivate his team, and when he gets a roll on and gets his team fired up, the Blues could be almost impossible to stop. The Maroons unlike the Blues have been able to keep the same halves pairing for all three matches. In the number 6 for the Maroons is Broncos youngster Shaun Berrigan, who has been the most consistent player for the Maroons in the series so far. Berrigan is not your traditional halves player, he plays the game at a million miles an hour, and only seems to get stronger and play better as the game wears on. What ever Berrigan lacks in a kicking game he makes up for in heart, and is one of the few, if not the only halves player who could claim to be able to do something better than Johns, and that is defend. In what could be his last match in origin, Broncos general Allan Langer will go head to head with Johns. Considered by many to be the greatest halfback to play the game, Langer has all the tricks, and even though his body may have slowed, his brain seems to have gotten better. Which ever forward pack go forward the best will determine who wins possibly the last ever Langer v Johns origin battle.
Coming off the bench the Blues have Storm player Scott Hill. Hill adds a lot of options from the bench, not only can he slot into the back line to add spark and more attacking options, Hill can slot into lock. Many believe Hill should be starting with Barrett on the bench. For the Maroons rookie Bronco Brent Tate will be injected from the bench. Tate is a strong runner of the football, and a great defender, it?s hard to believe that only 7 months ago, Tate was running around in the Queensland Cup. With more ball playing options in Norton and Price on the bench, the Maroons have opted for Tate, an out side back, whilst the Blues have opted for a ball playing back, with mostly running forwards on the bench.
Over all two very strong attacking and defending back lines. Both have their strengths and both have their weaknesses. In an even contest, the Blues have the edge in the backs, thanks to one Andrew Johns. So with the Maroons having the edge in the forwards and the Blues the edge in the backs, this shapes to be one hell of a game all going to plan. Bring on Wednesday night.
To Be Continued???