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As Origin football heads to the Gold Coast for the first time, the Blues find themselves in the rare situation of leading two-nil with a "home" game still to play.
The Blues have done a marvellous job so far this series, convincingly winning in both Games One and Two despite playing those respective matches in Queensland heartlands, Townsville and Brisbane. New South Wales field devastating players all over the park with the likes of James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell putting in extraordinary performances thus far and they'll be expecting a similar outcome in Game Three in the hope of becoming the first New South Wales side to sweep Queensland since 2000.
To put into context how well this New South Wales side has come along you need to revisit Queensland's dominance from 2006 through to 2017. During this period Queensland won 24 matches compared to a mere 12 by New South Wales. However, since 2018, the Blues have won seven matches compared to Queensland's four. The disparity between the numbers suggests that this New South Wales side could be the start of something special for a state that had to watch Queensland continuously outdo them for 11 years (bar 2014 of course).
Queensland have been blessed with the return of both Kalyn Ponga and AJ Brimson as they look to avoid their fourth clean sweep in Origin history. These two players will bring some much-needed speed and creativity to a side that sorely lacked in the latter department over the course of the first two games, conjuring up just the sole try whilst their opponents scored an incredible 12. Ponga excelled in his return to club football, scoring twice and assisting a further two tries as the Knights cruised to a 38-point victory of the Cowboys. Game Three won't come without pressure for the fullback as Queensland and their loyal supporters will be expecting a much-improved performance as they look to gain something from the series. Ponga, whilst one of the more talented players in the competition, won't be able to do this by himself and will need his struggling forward pack to stand up to the Blues as they need to lay a platform for Ponga and his spine counterparts.
It wasn't long ago that Queensland were being hailed for their tremendous Queensland spirit as they pulled off one of the great upsets in Origin history as they triumphed two games to one in last year's series despite being written off multiple times by experts in the lead up to the series. This spirit has been outmatched by the genuine star-studded line up that New South Wales possess. Their forward pack has been exceptional but it's their incredible back line which has drawn all the attention this year. The top four metre eaters all preside in New South Wales back five with Brian To'o (232.3) and James Tedesco (223.7) averaging over 200 metres per game and Tom Trbojevic (197.9) and Latrell Mitchell (172.1) rounding out the top four.
These players demand so much attention when they've got the football that it's almost impossible to have all four of them covered throughout the course of the match, in fact it's almost hard to stop them when they have the full attention of the defence.
New South Wales' outside backs have definitely benefitted from having Penrith duo, Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary in the halves, but they'll be absent in Game Three due to various injuries which gives Jack Wighton and Mitchell Moses a chance to stamp their foot on the Origin arena.
It's a great time for Moses to make his Origin debut with the series score line currently giving New South Wales a 76 to six points lead.
The Blues were forced to make another adjustment to the side with the news that Daniel Saifiti will miss the fixture due to injury which has made way for the return of Dale Finucane.
On the other hand, Queensland have made several changes to the line-up, including the inclusion of the aforementioned Ponga and Brimson. 19-year-old Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow will get his chance to prove himself as a Queenslander in the centres allowing Kurt Capewell to return to his natural second row position. As a result, Jai Arrow moves to lock, pushing Tino Fa'asuamaleaui to the bench. The other two changes include Kyle Feldt's omission as Valentine Holmes moves to the wing and Ben Hunt moves from the number 14 into hooker at the expense of Andrew McCullough
Last meeting: Game II 2021 - Maroons 0 Blues 26
Who to watch: As mentioned earlier, this New South Wales side is star-studded making it difficult to isolate just a single player, but it's been Latrell Mitchell's performances which reignited his Origin career and has him as one of three favourites to claim the Wally Lewis Medal, the other's being Tedesco and Trbojevic. In both games this series, Mitchell has come up with plays that either created tries for the Blues or completely switched the momentum of the game. He has terrorised Dane Gagai on that left edge and has some impressive statistics to back it up. The 24-year-old has scored three tries and assisted two in just two games so far. Mitchell has also broken 15 tackles (second most in the series), averaged 172 run metres and made two line breaks. To have five direct try involvements in two Origin matches is an incredible let alone for someone playing in the centre's.
Queensland need a lot of players to step up, most namely the forward pack, but Cameron Munster has much room for improvement on his performances so far this year. The 2020 Wally Lewis Medallist was exceptional in last year's series scoring a try and assisting one in what was effectively two matches after being knocked out early in Game Two. His 93 run metres a game this series is a career low in his five series as a Queenslander, if you account for his two minute performance in Game Two last year. A positive for the Queenslander's is that his performance in Game Two, one line break, four tackle breaks and 117 run metres was a big improvement on his Game One performance which saw him break one tackle and run for just 69 metres. Hopefully for Queenslands sake, we get to see the best of Munster and if their forward pack can dominate the middle, the combination between Munster, Cherry-Evans and Ponga will be exciting to watch.
The favourite: New South Wales are the favourites for Game Three after absolutely obliterating Queensland in the opening two fixtures. The Blues do feature a new halves pairing for this game but they still possess the most potent back five in recent memory. Queensland forwards will need to step up if they're to prevent New South Wales from completing the sweep.
My tip: This could be a bit misguided as a New South Wales fan, but their previous form is hard to go past and I'd expect them to come out wanting that third win in a similar fashion to their two previous wins. New South Wales by 18.
1. James Tedesco 2. Brian To'o 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Tom Trbojevic 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Jack Wighton 7. Mitchell Moses 18. Dale Finucane 9. Damien Cook 10. Junior Paulo 11. Cameron Murray 12. Tariq Sims 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Apisai Koroisau 15. Angus Crichton 16. Payne Haas 17. Liam Martin 19. Nicholas Hynes
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Valentine Holmes 3. Dane Gagai 4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 5. Xavier Coates 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Christian Welch 9. Ben Hunt 10. Josh Papali'i 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Felise Kaufusi 15. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 14. AJ Brimson 16. Moeaki Fotuaika 18. Francis Molo 20. Thomas Flegler 19. Kurt Mann
Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Todd Smith, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Ashley Klein;