Series: PREVIEW: 2022 State of Origin III
Winner takes all in Suncorp Showdown as COVID and injuries cause havoc
It all comes down to this, after two games in the series both New South Wales and Queensland are locked at one all with it all to play for in Game 3 at the cauldron that is Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. A venue which in recent times has been an Origin nightmare for Brad Fittler and NSW.
Queensland will be looking for an immediate bounce back following a horror second half in Perth two Sunday's ago. It's safe to say that the Maroons let all their energy out defending in the ten minutes Felise Kaufusi was sin binned for deliberate slow down tactics. From the moment Kaufusi returned to the field, QLD were out-enthused and fatigued allowing the Blues to cross for three quick tries and resigning the Maroons to a win or go home third game.
After such an embarrassing loss, the question immediately asked at Billy Slater this week when browsing the NRL on Nine interviews was "what changes will be made to this side?". The media's blowtorch was focused on Dane Gagai, normally a strong representative performer has been singled out for criticism, but Slater has backed the Newcastle centre selecting him for the deciding game. Felise Kaufusi is a withdrawal for personal family reasons with Jeremiah Nanai starting. Tom Gilbert is set to be rewarded for his strong form with the Cowboys earning a debut on the bench for Billy Slater. The biggest shock was the late withdrawal of 5/8 Cam Munster and winger Murray Taulagi due to testing positive for COVID, this sees Tom Dearden earn an Origin debut in the cauldron of Suncorp and Corey Oates gets recalled on the wing.
If Queensland are going to be competitive for a longer time period, they'll need to begin by shutting down the most powerful back three in rep football. The Triple T (James Tedesco, Daniel Tupou and Brian To'o) are meter eating machines and with all three running for over 200 meters in Perth. It's safe to say that their impact was humungous as it allowed the Blues to begin their sets in good ball territory. QLD's defence was pedestrian like and sorely missed Reuben Cotter and will be without him for the decider again. It is up to the QLD forwards to match it with the meter eaters in the NSW backline or else they're going to be trampled all over Lang Park just like they were last year when the series was on the line. Expect Ben Hunt to take more of a kicking role which was effective in the first half of game 2.
New South Wales executed a perfect game plan in Game 2 and it's easy to link it with the dominance of faces representing the Penrith Panthers. The inclusion of Matt Burton really brought this point home, Burton's execution of his torpedo bombs into the Perth skyline will be giving the QLD back three nightmares throughout training camp. More importantly, Api Koroisau gave the Blues much needed spark out of the hooker position that was missing from the opening encounter and Liam Martin answered his critics after an unusually quiet opening affair which saw him get little ball by making himself involved more and a nightmare for QLD in defence.
Outside of the Penrith players (yes that's 50% of the roster), the forwards really answered the call after being dominated in Sydney. The inclusion of Jake Trbojevic gave the Blues a rock solid defender they lacked in G1 and sealed up the gaps that allowed QLD to win the ruck. Junior Paulo provided the impact to match the intensity provided by Pat Carrigan and had a commanding performance.
Brad Fittler has chosen to make slight changes to the side that dominated the Maroons in Perth. First and foremost, it's important to note Latrell Mitchell made the brave and selfless decision to withdraw himself from Origin selection. Both Matt Burton and Stephen Crichton have been retained following strong performances. Payne Haas is out of the side due to his troublesome shoulder and Cowboys prop Jordan McLean was set to be rewarded with an Origin debut at prop, but the cruel injury gods had other ideas, with McLean breaking down with a hamstring injury on Thursday, this sees Jacob Saifiti earn an eleventh hour Origin debut. Siosifa Talakai has been retained on the bench with Jack Wighton becoming the concussion replacement.
Last meeting: Origin II, 2022 - Blues 44 Maroons 12
Who to watch: I'm going to say it right now, Nathan Cleary is a player that is unfairly targeted following a poor performance. NSW supporters took Cleary down the Mitchell Pearce route of trolling following an uncharacteristic Game One performance which saw his kicking game slightly off. But like a true champion does, he brushed himself off and pulled off one of the more commanding individual performances in Origin history. Cleary combined for two tries and eight goals for 24 individual points placing him behind fellow clubman Ryan Girdler's 30 point performance in 2000. Throw in two try assists and two line-breaks, and you have a commanding performance. Look for Cleary to be the catalyst for everything NSW does on Wednesday night with his firm command of the NSW side.
After having his "home" Origin cut short by a concussion. Kalyn Ponga will be out to prove that he can lead his side to victory. Another player that has been facing negative headlines after a controversial contract negotiation period, Ponga has faced adverse criticism this season for not being worth his salary. But when he pulls on the Maroon of QLD, he's one of the games most talented fullbacks. Ponga was the best in a beaten side in Game 2 and was close to their best in the series opener as well. Ponga's had a great series at the back setting up two tries, three tackle breaks and averaging 122 meters per match. Ponga's touches of the footy did reduce in Perth, so if QLD want to be in it to win it, KP needs to get his hands on the footy and be the focal point of the attack.
The favourite: NSW are slight favourites with the bookies for the decider which is a bit of a surprise. It's a surprise because I believe we need to look at the Blues record at Suncorp, NSW have won only 34% of matches at Suncorp, only winning once since Freddy took over as coach.
My tip: In a winner takes all match, this is one that could really go either way. In the hostile environment of a Suncorp decider, I believe Brad Fittler and NSW have learned their lessons from the 2020 decider and will be better for the cause in this one. Having said that, it's Origin football and it's going to go down to the wire and enter the classical tales of Origin folklore, just like Freddy's side did in 2019. The only difference is, they're going to be lifting the shield in foreign territory despite the noise of a sold-out Suncorp. With the late withdrawal of Cam Munster, it's hard to replace a player of his calibre so quickly and it's going to be an uphill battle. But if we know anything about Origin football, this is what QLD thrive on, being the underdog. Bring on the Decider!! NSW by 4.