We take up the tale in the Year of out Lord 2006, at a time when the King?s colony in the Great Southland has descended upon the fair State of Victoria. Despite supplications to the contrary, General Gallop has determined Ye Olde Docklands to be of a form pleasing to his eye. And so, it was agreed upon, that it should host the third and final State of Origin match for said year.
The 78th clash between New South Wales and Queensland is set to take place undercover at Telstra Dome in Melbourne where the Maroons will look to arrest a three-series losing streak that is threatening to debase the very notion of Origin Football?well depending on who you talk to.
I suppose if you were going to endanger the existence of this interstate rivalry, then Melbourne would be a fitting place for such an act. But when considering the possible outcomes of this match, I?m not sure there is a more neutral arena for it to be played.
Of the four previous Origin matches played in Melbourne, three have been contested at the MCG, with NSW holding the upper hand 2-1. The first ever game south of the Murray was played at Olympic Park back in 1990 and was also won by NSW. But three of the four contests were following games in Sydney, and twice the series was on the line only for NSW to claim victory. This is the first time the decider has been taken out of either of the two native States however.
So I think all that points to a wide open game and that is able to be won by either team on their day.
New South Wales come into this game offering a few changes to the sides that have played in the first two matches.
Not since Antony and Cleopatra had we seen such an uneasy, unholy union that was Brett Finch and Braith Anasta. They?ve had their time sheets marked ?Never to be Selected Again? and make way for the future which is Craig Gower and Mark Gasnier, with Matt Cooper slotting into the centres.
This will ultimately prove to be the talking point of the match: if NSW win the media will hail the pairing as a success; if they lose it will be a disaster. I think it has the potential to be a great combination if Gower can direct the play and kick well. With a guy of Gasnier?s strikepower running off your shoulder, any half gap can result in mayhem for the opposition. Moreover, if Queensland is expecting this it will bring Brett Hodgson and Ben Hornby into calculations as worthy alternatives.
I?m not sure how NSW will introduce Hornby, but I?ve been thinking that perhaps he?ll get a run at first receiver when Danny Buderus comes off with Gower playing acting half. Whatever takes place, NSW will be hoping he can work as well with Gasnier tomorrow night as he does at club level. With Cooper only serving to strengthen the defence of the Blues, the rest of the backline is left unchanged.
Which brings us to the forwards ? NSW needs to dominate here if the experiment of Gasnier is to work.
Brent Kite, Andrew Ryan and Craig Wing were all given the flick, opening the door for Luke Bailey to start, Luke O?Donnell to be reinstated and Paul Gallen will make his debut from the bench wearing the no.14 jumper, although there are some suggestions that he will start the match or perhaps Mark O?Meley.
In the Queensland camp things haven?t been quite so smooth. Gun centre Justin Hodges was ruled out early in proceedings pushing in-form winger Brent Tate one man in and selectors opting for a bit of a surprise in Rhys Wesser to cover the flank.
Wesser played his last match in Game III 2004 and, whilst he has made his mark at fullback, he?ll be up to the task for this one. Queensland opted for Canberra custodian Clinton Schifcofske to fill the boots left behind by the injured Karmichael Hunt (Game II) and the out of sorts Matt Bowen (Game I).
This is the first time Queensland has ever used three fullbacks in one series, but injuries have galvanised them in the past and it would be foolish to think this would do anything but in an Origin decider.
The big surprise was Josh Hannay?s recall. He hasn?t played since Game III in 2003, and by all reports he?ll be lucky to play in this one. A stomach virus has struck the Cowboy down and Willie Tonga has been brought in as cover. Strangely, his last outing as a cane toad was the same one as Rhys Wesser, and they got belted 36-14 in Sydney.
The forwards are much the same with the exception of Lillyman, who makes way for the experience of Tonie Carroll off the bench. I?m not a huge fan of this as I would expect Lillyman to make more impact than Carroll from the bench, but I?d still use Carroll as a starting player.
Price, Civoniceva, Webb and the smarts of Smith at hooker will give NSW plenty to think about though.
For the first time in a long time I?m really unsure about this game.
NSW look the better side on paper but how many times have punters been duped into thinking the Blues are much stronger only to have Queensland relish in the underdog tag and upset them? Too many, that?s how many?
Like just about every contest, a good big man will beat a good little man. All the Maroon forwards are strong and mobile with plenty of experience. Meanwhile, NSW have traded in Ryan for Gallen and I?m not sure that?s a good idea.
It?s likely to be a bit greasy down there and I think kicking will be very important. When the roof is closed at Telstra Dome the ball travels a little further and this could even things up a little.
But it?s a hard game to call. I?m going to choose Queensland by 6 points because their halves have remained the same and whilst they?ve had a few changes elsewhere in the backline, the rest of the team will rally around their men and get the job done.