The third and final instalment of this year's State of Origin Series is looming large on the horizon of Rugby League's finest arena. The script couldn't have been written better with a 1-game-all deadlock, including a tight first encounter, followed by an open and free-flowing return clash that saw the return of favourite son Brad Fittler in the sky blue.
Now, heading into the third game at Telstra Stadium, rumours abounded that former skipper Gorden Tallis will re-acquaint himself with the engrossing atmosphere of Origin football.
The mere suggestion has the adrenalin pumping through most fans as we await the outcome of injury concerns to Michael Crocker and Steven Price. A final showdown between Fittler and Tallis would certainly go down in Origin folklore as one of the more memorable occasions.
But earlier today the Maroons camp quashed the rumours, stating he was only in town to watch the game and then begin preparations for Brisbane's clash with St George Illawarra on Friday night.
Providing the day remains a dry one, the game should be played out in a fairly open fashion, with both teams boasting an array of attacking talent. Both backlines have enormous attacking potential, with a new centre combination of Cooper and Gasnier for the Blues from the in-form Dragons making their debut. For the Maroon's, Slater and Tonga are extraordinary talents who will certainly give their opposite's plenty of grief all night long.
In the halves, an almighty match-up is in the offing. Fittler and Barrett v Lockyer and Prince. Between them, these four men have every skill in the book, and it will be very interesting to see who comes out on top. At first glance the Blues look to have a more balanced yet robust half combination, with Freddy and Baz admitting they enjoy playing together there. But you can never write Queensland off, and I'm sure Lockyer will have a lot to say in the battle of the halves. Young Prince will be his deputy, and whilst he had a quiet Game II, he'll turn up to play tonight.
An absorbing contest will be fought upfront, with both packs of forwards possessing size, mobility, ball skills and strike power. It is hard to single any one out, but having said that Nathan Hindmarsh will be back on song for the Blues again. He was great in Game II and was the best forward on the field. His damaging runs nearly secured victory for NSW. But the same can be said about Mick Crocker, who is a very angry young man. I bet he just wants to rip someone's head off tonight. What he gives away in skill to Hindmarsh, he makes up for in aggression.
Tonight's match will be a very close and entertaining one. I'm sticking with the Blues to take out the game and the series off the back of the sentimentality surrounding the game with Fittler and Gould departing, plus the fact Queensland have never won at Telstra Stadium.
The Maroons won't give up without a fight though, and here's hoping one breaks out tonight. New South Wales by 4.
Here are the teams and some helpful stats if you feel like taking a punt with our good friends at Sport Odds:
NEW SOUTH WALES
1. ANTHONY MINICHIELLO (Sydney Roosters) Age: 24 Hgt: 181cm Wgt: 88kg Origins: 4 Tests: 6
2. LUKE LEWIS (Penrith) Age: 20 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 94kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
3. MARK GASNIER (St George Illawarra) Age: 22 Hgt: 192cm Wgt: 100kg Origins: Nil Tests: 1.
4. MATT COOPER (St George Illawarra) Age: 25 Hgt: 188cm Wgt: 92kg Origins: Nil Tests: Nil.
5. LUKE ROONEY (Penrith) Age: 21 Hgt: 192cm Wgt: 98kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
6. BRAD FITTLER (Sydney Roosters) Age: 32 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 96kg Origins: 30 Tests: 34.
7. TRENT BARRETT (St George Illawarra) Age: 26 Hgt: 182cm Wgt: 92kg Origins: 5 Tests: 7.
8. JASON RYLES (St George Illawarra) Age: 25 Hgt: 194cm Wgt: 113kg Origins: 4 Tests: 5
9. DANNY BUDERUS (Newcastle - captain) Age: 26 Hgt: 178cm Wgt: 91kg Origins: 8 Tests: 12.
10. MARK O'MELEY (Bulldogs) Age: 23 Hgt: 180cm Wgt: 100kg Origins: 6 Tests: Nil
11. NATHAN HINDMARSH (Parramatta) Age: 24 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 107kg Origins: 6 Tests: 1.
12. CRAIG FITZGIBBON (Sydney Roosters) Age: 27 Hgt: 192cm Wgt: 104kg Origins: 4 Tests: 5.
13. SHAUN TIMMINS (St George Illawarra) Age: 27 Hgt: 184cm Wgt: 97kg Origins: 8 Tests: 6.
14. WILLIE MASON (Bulldogs) Age: 24 Hgt: 195cm Wgt: 115kg Origins: 3 Tests: 7.
15. BRENT KITE (St George Illawarra) Age: 23 Hgt: 190cm Wgt: 105kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
16. BEN KENNEDY (Newcastle) Age: 30 Hgt: 188cm Wgt: 103kg Origins: 9 Tests: 6.
17. CRAIG WING (Sydney Roosters) Age: 24 Hgt: 180cm Wgt: 86kg Origins: 5 Tests: 6.
Coach: PHIL GOULD Origin record: 13 wins, 9 losses, one draw, five series wins
1. RHYS WESSER (Penrith) Age: 25 Hgt: 174cm Wgt: 85kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
2. MATT SING (North Queensland) Age: 29 Hgt: 183cm Wgt: 86kg Origins: 20 Tests: 8
3. BRENT TATE (Brisbane) Age: 22 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 89kg Origins: 5 Tests: 4.
4. WILLIE TONGA (Bulldogs) Age: 20 Hgt: 183cm Wgt: 95kg Origins: 1 Tests: Nil
5. BILLY SLATER (Melbourne) Age: 21 Hgt: 179cm Wgt: 87kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
6. DARREN LOCKYER (Brisbane - captain) Age: 27 Hgt: 178cm Wgt: 86kg Origins: 17 Tests: 20
7. SCOTT PRINCE (Wests Tigers) Age: 24 Hgt: 178cm Wgt: 82kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
8. SHANE WEBCKE (Brisbane) Age: 29 Hgt: 183cm Wgt: 112kg Origins: 20 Tests: 14
9. CAMERON SMITH (Melbourne) Age: 20 Height: 184cm Weight: 83kg Origins: 3 Tests: Nil
10. STEVE PRICE (Bulldogs) Age: 30 Hgt: 193cm Wgt: 101kg Origins: 15 Tests: 4
11. MICHAEL CROCKER (Sydney Roosters) Age: 24 Hgt: 187cm Wgt: 100kg Origins: 3 Tests: 4
12. DANE CARLAW (Brisbane) Age: 24 Hgt: 192cm Wgt: 107kg Origins: 10 Tests: 6
13. CHRIS FLANNERY (Sydney Roosters) Age: 24 Hgt: 186cm Wgt: 98kg Origins: 4 Tests: Nil
14. BEN ROSS (Penrith) Age: 24 Hgt: 195cm Wgt: 112kg Origins: 2 Tests: Nil
15. PETERO CIVONICEVA (Brisbane) Age: 28 Hgt: 193cm Wgt: 110kg Origins: 10 Tests: 8
16. COREY PARKER (Brisbane) Age: 22 Hgt: 185cm Wgt: 108kg Origins: 1 Tests: Nil
17. MATT BOWEN (North Queensland) Age: 22 Hgt: 175cm Wgt: 78kg Origins: 4 Tests: Nil
Coach: MICHAEL HAGAN (Newcastle) Origin record: two games, one win, one loss.
Games: 71, Queensland 35 wins, NSW 34 wins, drawn 2 Series: Queensland 10, NSW 10, drawn 2
Most tries in a match: 3 - Chris Anderson (NSW - Lang Park on June 28 1983), Ryan Girdler (NSW - Stadium Australia on June 7 2000), Kerry Boustead (Qld - Lang Park on May 29 1984), Lote Tuqiri (Qld - ANZ Stadium on June 5 2002), Matt Sing (Qld - Suncorp Stadium on July 16 2003)
Most goals in one match: 10 - Ryan Girdler (NSW - Stadium Australia on June 7 2000)
Most points in one match: 32 - Ryan Girdler (NSW - Stadium Australia on June 7 2000)
Oldest Queensland player: Allan Langer (35 years and 331 days)
Oldest NSW player: John Ferguson (34 years and 348 days)
Youngest Queensland player: Ben Ikin (18 years and 83 days)
Youngest NSW player: Brad Fittler (18 years and 114 days)
Most appearances for Queensland: 34 - Allan Langer
Most appearances for NSW: 30 - Brad Fittler
Most consecutive appearances (NSW): 20 - Paul Harragon (Game 1 1992 to Game 2 1998)
Most consecutive appearances (Qld): 24 - Gary Larson (Game 1 1991 to Game 3 1998)
Most appearances by referee: 21 - Bill Harrigan
Biggest crowd for a match: 88,336 at match 2 1999 at Stadium Australia
Biggest crowd for a series: 183,691 in 2003
Origin results at Telstra Stadium (formerly Stadium Australia):
1999 (Game 2) - NSW 12 beat Queensland 8
2000 (Game 1) - NSW 20 beat Queensland 16
2000 (Game 3) - NSW 56 beat Queensland 16
2001 (Game 2) - NSW 26 beat Queensland 8
2002 (Game 1) - NSW 32 beat Queensland 4
2002 (Game 3) - Queensland 18 drew with NSW 18
2003 (Game 2) - NSW 27 beat Queensland 4
2004 (Game 1) - NSW 9 beat Queensland 8
Latest Odds: Centrebet - NSW $1.53, Queensland $2.50 SportsTAB - NSW $1.50, Queensland $2.50Like