State of Origin III Preview
Queensland v New South Wales
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Ever since the first Origin 'dead rubber' was played at Lang Park back in 1984, the honour of holding up the trophy for the series champions has more often than not come while the stench of defeat is still lingering overhead.
In the past 30 years when already-decided series have had their final act played out in the Queensland capital, the Origin champions have triumphed just four times out of 11 occasions, the last being the Blues of 1996 who secured a 3-0 series whitewash with a Brad Fittler field goal and a 15-14 triumph in Game Three.
The last time New South Wales were able to stroll into Suncorp safe in the knowledge that the Origin shield was secure was back in 2003 and in front of 52,130 Queensland fans (just 290 less than attended Game One), the Maroons dished out a 36-6 hammering.
Likewise, NSW have been able to spoil Queensland celebrations in enemy territory in 2009 and 2007 but the 47 per cent winning record of the team leading the series 2-0 is proof enough that it is difficult to fully prepare for an Origin when the ultimate prize has already been won.
Queensland officials are bringing back as many of the 49 players who have been a part of the Maroons' eight-year winning streak from 2006-2013 as they can track down and the current squad are determined to 'celebrate the eight' with a big performance on home soil.
The only changes the Maroons have made have been forced through injury to both Matt Scott and Brent Tate with Will Chambers finally getting his Origin debut on the wing and Jacob Lillyman earning his first call-up to the run-on side in place of Scott.
Cooper Cronk has made a miraculous recovery from a broken arm to slot straight back in at halfback, pushing Daly Cherry-Evans back to the bench while Dave Taylor retains his spot in the 17 courtesy of the ankle injury to Chris McQueen.
The Blues have also been forced into changing a winning side with Will Hopoate, Michael Jennings and Anthony Watmough all unavailable, opening up returns for James McManus, Josh Morris and Boyd Cordner.
Players from both camps will tell you that there is no such thing as a dead rubber in Origin but history shows us that it is often the vanquished who possess the greatest motivation.
Watch out Maroons... If he can deliver somewhere close to the type of performance he displayed in Game One, there is no greater certainty in the 2014 season than that Blues fullback Jarryd Hayne will be named the player of the series. In terms of attacking threats to the Maroons in games where defence often reigns supreme, Hayne's pure numbers stand out like a beacon over the Blues sea. His 15 tackle breaks from two games are six more than any other NSW player has managed and of the four line breaks the Blues have made, two belong to the 'Hayne plane'. He went into Origin II with energy levels sapped by a gastro bug in the 24 hours prior; a big showing here in his 20th Origin appearance will stamp him forever as an Origin great.
Watch out Blues... They know it's coming but in two games so far this series the Blues have still been unable to find a way to stop Justin Hodges from making big metres out of dummy-half. The 32-year-old has been one of Queensland's best in both games and a significant part of his contribution stems from the momentum he gives his side out of dummy-half. His 152 metres from 16 runs out of dummy-half in the opening two games is more than 50 metres clear of next best Robbie Farah and make up close to 64 per cent of his total run metres. He showed with his line break leading into half-time of Game Two that he is prepared to venture well in from his right centre position and with a new winger outside him in Will Chambers, it opens up the possibility for an extra dimension to the Queensland attack on that side of the field.
Plays to Watch: With the series decided and a new combination of referees, expect to see a more open, free-flowing Origin match than what we have witnessed in games one and two. Any extra time and space will enable Queensland halfback Cooper Cronk to head right and either hit Matt Gillett short, play flat to Justin Hodges or pick up Billy Slater sweeping around the back. Josh Reynolds' inclination to come flying off his line may also be a target for the Maroons' playmakers. For NSW, the continued development of Josh Dugan as a strike weapon at right centre gives them extra potency on Jarryd Hayne's favoured side; look for Hayne to sweep out the back and drop off to a strong-running Dugan coming back on the angle on his inside.
Key Match-up: Cameron Smith v Robbie Farah
Robbie Farah was our Man of the Match in Game Two but if Queensland had somehow found a way to hang on, their skipper Cameron Smith would have been the man to get the gong. Such is the importance of the hooker position at Origin level as they dictate not only the speed of the ruck but their probing out of dummy-half is a key way to get momentum in a set. Farah has touched the ball on 24 more occasions than his counterpart and has 31 more running metres out of dummy-half from two games but Smith's greatest asset comes not from stats but the calming influence he has on his team and his complete control of the situation. The niggling tactics and resulting slow ruck speed almost played straight into Smith's hands in Game Two; the Blues would be well advised to get the ball out of that area as quickly as possible if they hope to achieve a clean sweep.
Where it will be won: NSW have had to come from behind to claim both victories in the series to date but if they allow Queensland to wrest control away early in this one they may find it harder to get back. With the series won the desperation won't be as prevalent and if the Maroons get a sniff of having a night out, they may do enough damage by half-time to make the second stanza almost redundant. The opening 20 minutes is a key period in all big games but whoever gets on top early next Wednesday night may find they are granted opportunities they could only have dreamed of in the first two games.
History: The social media hashtag #oneinarow got quite the workout in the wake of Game Two and Blues fans will tell you that, for the past two games at least, it has been all NSW. With a total of 30 points scored so far across two games the record for the lowest number of points scored in an Origin series is under threat, the record low mark currently standing with the 1992 series won by NSW where a total of 49 points were scored across the three games. The win by NSW at Suncorp in Game One was just their fifth in Brisbane since the opening game of 2003 and their overall record stands at just 18 wins from 50 visits to 'the cauldron'.
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins; Assistant Referee: Gerard Sutton; Touch Judges: Steve Carrall and Jason Walsh; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm
How we see it: The fact that there have been only seven clean sweeps from 32 series since the Origin concept went to a three-game format in 1982 shows not only how evenly-matched these two teams have been over history but also how hard it is to perform at your absolute peak three times in the one series. NSW have recorded just three clean sweeps in Origin history, the last one coming with the 56-16 humiliation of Game Three, 2000. Blues coach Laurie Daley will drum into his team all week the need to replicate the exact same environment they created for the first two games, but can they reproduce that desperate defence when nothing is actually at stake? Their first series defeat in nine years has been called the end of an era for the Maroons; they might just want to prove there's life in the old dog yet. Queensland by eight points.