The conclusion to this season?s 25th Anniversary State of Origin series is upon us, with intrigue and drama befitting of such a grand occasion.
In the three weeks since Game II we have witnessed some ordinary, some surprising and some hair-raising events that will shape the frontier with which the finale of this year?s finest sporting contest shall be staged. With NSW and QLD now galloping towards one another on their trusted steed - lance raised to the horizontal, sweat streaming through their metal armour bracing for the impending collision - we the fans nervously await the outcome of who will strike the killer blow as our personal ownership of the game reaches pathological levels and we consider ourselves to be passengers on the journey into the unknown.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, our men swathed in Sky Blue or Maroon are standing toe-to-toe contesting Rugby League?s heavyweight championship of the world, safe in the knowledge that the victor will retain the pinnacle of bragging rights to this distinguished game of ours for the next twelve months. Please will you be upstanding as our fair men contest the Endgame ? State of Origin III at Queensland?s Suncorp Stadium.
In the biggest surprise to Origin III, Queensland dropped incumbent Billy Slater from the team entirely. It sent a shockwave through the League community as people struggled with his omission and the naming of ?TBA? on the bench.
It soon emerged that TBA would be Tonie Carroll if he was considered fit and all hope was lost for Slater who didn?t deserve being cut from the team. Enter Matt Bowen, whose combination with Cowboys teammates Ty Williams and Matt Sing was seen as the decisive factor in him being given the nod at no.1. It is highly likely that his ability under the high ball will be tested to the utmost, with Berrigan and Lockyer the only Broncos remaining in the backline.
This may alleviate some pressure on NSW fullback Anthony Minichiello, who had an up and down game last time around. Things were looking good when he swooped on the ball in the first half to score the Blue?s first try after it rebounded off the post. But his hands let him down later on with an error gifting Queensland a try, ironically to Billy Slater. Although quick, it remains to be seen if Bowen can run 80m untouched to score when presented with such an opportunity.
The Big Boys
The centre of the field at Suncorp Stadium may as well be known as middle earth for this clash. Two packs of carnivorous beasts will be throwing themselves against each other in the hope of gaining that extra metre or sapping their opponents energy enough to expose a weakness in the frontline.
Will NSW stand up with the likes of Ryles, Bailey, Kennedy and Hindmarsh who have put their shoulder to the wheel in the last two games? Or will QLD find themselves searching for impact following-on from the injury to live-wire Carl Webb?
With Petero and newcomer Danny Nutley in the front row, The Maroons have a balanced forward pack that will certainly test the mettle of the New South Welshman. They have height and durability, plus a bit on mongrel with Thorn and Croker sure to niggle at some stage.
The confrontation in the forwards will surely help decide the fate of the game on the night and one thing?s for sure, middle earth aint going to be a pretty part of the world to inhabit around about then.
The Alpha Male part II
Once a subplot, now a Broadway production in its? own right, the Johns v Lockyer duel hits fever pitch in Game III as we are treated to the finest individual rivalry of the modern era with the sheer class in the halves of both teams enough to make a miner weep.
Joey claimed a knockout victory in their last clash at Telstra Stadium. His general play and organisation of the Blues was by far and away the difference on the night, with his running and passing in the second half a feature that few can perform. He did look stuffed in the last twenty though, with the effects of little football in the past two years catching up on him. But he didn?t let anyone down and tonight will be no different. Such a contest sees the cream rise to the top and Johns will bring his A-game along to push his team towards a come-from-behind series win.
Lockyer is a different story however. He was kept in check last game but has his buddy TBA back to help out. With the protection Carroll offers as well as the undoubted targeting of Johns he will undertake, Lockyer should be able to play his natural game. With a zippy halfback by the name of Thurston inside him, Locky should open up the shoulders considerably and begin to play a more prominent role this time around.
With the weather fine, the series riding on the outcome and a full house expected in Bris Vegas, this game has enough mojo to last us the rest of the year.
NSW have once again gone with a smaller team, placing a utility in Gower on the bench with three backrowers to come on at some point. QLD have gone for a bit more size opting to introduce props Ross and Parker along with the demoted Flannery and debutant Harrison from the Bunnies.
I?m finding it hard to tip against NSW with Andrew Johns certainly the man to bring home the trophy. His game last time was exceptional and all champions rise to the occasion, but can he do it again?
The cane toads just seem to have too much size and could well bash the Blues off the park, who will be taking a more nimble footed approach. At home, with history in their favour, I feel the Maroons will be too hard to stop.