By MICHAEL BYRNES
IT’S being billed as the most anticipated game in Origin history. That contention is a bit beyond me. Nevertheless, it’s a clash that is full of intrigue.
If you listen to the hype, the media summaries, or used to choose movies on the basis of what was written on the back of the DVD case, then you might think New South Wales have been utterly dominant for 140 of the 160 minutes of Origin 2017 and only lost game two because they felt sorry for a wounded Jonathan Thurston. Like any summary, it doesn’t really paint an accurate picture.
The Blues were dominant in Origin I but the Maroons fired plenty of shots in that second half and were only one or two miraculous James Tedesco try-savers from turning on another Origin cliffhanger. Yet the Maroons were well down on firepower, and the side that lines up in game three has little in common with the side that got rolled in Origin I.
In the second match, there is no doubt the Maroons were losing the yardage battle throughout the first half but they were hanging in there, possibly by design. NFL commentators call it a “bend but don’t break” style of defence. It was the two rapid-fire tries in and around Tim Glasby that seemed to cement the Blues’ aura of dominance, yet they went to the break only 16-6 ahead. Looking at the Blues’ celebrations on the sideline, you’d have thought it was 30-6. Perhaps this is where things went awry.
Getting a handle on Origin III is no easy task. No Thurston, no Inglis, no Scott, no Boyd; you should probably be able to write your own blowout scoreline in the Blues favour. It might well end up that way. The Blues have been physically dominant, and the only real challenge seems to be between the ears of their x-factor talent. Having said that, the Blues have an awful lot of x-factor talent.
The Maroons are at home. They get a leg up there. They will be doing it for Thurston and Cronk (assuming the latter retires). They add Munster and Hunt, who pose plenty of questions for defences, and the mercurial Michael Morgan gets a full game in the centres. They have the Melbourne Storm spine. They have boom talents Napa, Munster, Holmes and Hess to play off the back of the GOAT candidates Slater, Smith and Cronk. The Maroons are a different kettle of fish to the team than ran out onto Suncorp Stadium in Origin I. While that much is reasonably obvious, Phil Gould doesn’t want you (or the NSW team) to know it.
Despite the Maroons appearing to be on the precipice following their golden era, the Blues is where the real drama is. How fit is Cordner? How fit is Frizell? How fit is Tedesco? Is Mitchell Pearce the puppeteer of this team or a dangling hood ornament? Can Jarryd Hayne handle a genuine four-on-one overlap? These questions and more.
The Blues have the basic ingredients of victory sewn up before they even run out. They will make enough metres. They will put themselves in the right positions on the field. They will create enough opportunities to win multiple games of elite rugby league. The real keys to victory for NSW rest in the palms of a few individuals — Fifita, Graham, and Tedesco. The Maroons did an outstanding job on Fifita in Game II. He knows what’s coming — it would be surprising in the extreme if they handled him as well in game three. Tedesco is under a cloud but he was the Blues’ MVP through two games. They will need him at full capacity in the decider. Wade Graham off the bench is the definition of embarrassment of riches. He has a Maloney-like quality to give away stupid penalties, but he is an out-and-out match winner, hits as hard as anyone in the competition, and can run, kick, and pass with equal effectiveness. He’s my tip for Man of the Match honours, even off the bench.
Final Prediction (with three per cent confidence): QUEENSLAND 14, NSW 18