In the history of State of Origin, there has only ever been 7 series sweeps since 1980. The Queensland Maroons now have the task of stopping a New South Wales team from accomplishing such a feat in what would be their first in 18 years.
For Queensland fans it has been a tough series to witness going close to notching a win in both occasions. Its now time for the Maroons to return to Suncorp Stadium and end the potential whitewash by the Blues, with many elements now changing an improved performance is needed to win game 3.
The two matches that have been played and won by the Blues this series have been decided by 10 points in game one and just 4 points in game two. It shows how close the series has been for either team to win it, however, in each match the Queensland side has lead in the early stages being unable to go on with their lead to be victorious.
Many stages in their losses the Maroons have been unable to capitalise on their possession lacking variation in their attacking structures and formations thrown at the Blues. It was very predictable from the Queenslanders which let the NSW side defend their line even with a man down in game 2 with 10 minutes left where they were able to withstand multiple attacking raids and go on to claim the shield.
There have been many changes to the Queensland side since game 2, both forced and deliberate with coach Kevin Walters making huge decisions to get the result. Two of the most damaging players in captain Greg Inglis and newcomer Kalyn Ponga are out of the side along with enforcer Dylan Napa, these players are big pieces in the team’s makeup and Walters has had to bring in Origin experience to counterattack the damage done.
The lack of execution in attacking opportunities has forced selectors to bring in players that can change that. Ben Hunt has been benched, criticised for much of the series loss and showed weaknesses in controlling the side’s chances with the ball to get points while being unable to make decisions to set up his other teammates for them to get involved in the match. In comes, Daly Cherry-Evans who has been exiled from the origin area for 3 years, bringing in experience in the halves while being that somewhat more dominant playmaker at halfback.
Corey Oates also returns to the side which will add another strong carrier out of the Maroons end getting their sets off to a strong start while being one of the competitions best finishers.
A change in gameplan will be on the cards for the Maroons to regain some positives to lead into next years series. Each side has shared around the same percentage of possession over the course of the matches but the Blues have been able to complete 90% of their sets, this is where the Queensland team can improve to be triumphant in game 3.
Completion of sets are crucial in Origin, with the sides being so close in their negative plays and errors its how the possession is used throughout the match which wins the game. Rarely did the Maroons explore crossfield kicks to their edges after punching through the middle or inviting enough pressure on their opposition to then send the ball out to the wings to score. Much of the inexperience through the Blues side is on their flanks with two debutant centre/wing pairings the new combination in the Queensland halves must exploit these weaknesses further through their own style of play whether in kicks or cut out passes but also presenting opportunities giving their outside men enough opportunity to use their ability.
With the additions to the squad, the main man for the side will be halfback Cherry-Evans.
Cherry-Evans polarising return to Origin has many Queenslanders questioning his selection but Walters has made the right decision. Cherry’s experience in big matches through grand finals, international and origin rugby league shows he can succeed under the bright lights especially at home in Brisbane for game 3. Though not in his best form this season the 2017 fight back from the Manly skipper to lead his side to the finals and back to his best footy has undoubtedly helped his case, for arguably the first time DCE will be able to lead this Maroons side who has missed key playmaking leadership in Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Johnathon Thurston.
His natural game is to be a dominant number 7 option with the support of a great five-eighth which in this case has Munster helping. For him to succeed he will need to use his controlling kicking game long and short while using his superb assisting in finding outside options or backrowers for good lines to score, which has been missing in distributing the ball to their backs more involved to prosper off their confidence with the possession later in the match in what can get them to victory.
In many ways, Queensland held and controlled the ball with more authority throughout this series but the vision of their playmakers has gone astray having their outside backs not being included in much of their sets until the very last moment when needing to come up with the tries or assists. This needs to change if they are any hope of stopping a crushing 3-0 series for the Blues and regain some progress for the future while sending out Slater a winner.