For the past 11 years, New South Wales have constantly been disappointed, defeated, and at times even embarrassed. They were able to finally break the Maroons streak in 2014, although that has been immediately followed by another 2 series wins for Queensland, including the 52-6 hiding that they received in their attempt to defend the shield. Finally, it appears that the Blues may have assembled a team that not only challenges the Maroons, but strikes genuine fear into Queenslanders. Fortunately for New South Wales it won’t be the sendoff that Jonathan Thurston and the Rugby League community deserve, however the 2017 decider it still shaping up to be one of the biggest games in Rugby League history.
Thurston’s tragic injury was a blessing for New South Wales, as the Maroons would’ve undoubtedly done everything in their power to send the Queensland hero off with a series victory. His injury also left a massive hole in the Maroons team, and with Game 1 five-eight Anthony Milford injured, young gun Cameron Munster has been picked to link up with Melbourne Storm team mate Cooper Cronk in the halves. It’s a huge task for a kid who has only started playing five-eight this year for the Storm, however Munster oozes class and will feel comfortable playing with the entire Melbourne spine. Ben Hunt’s selection is questionable after playing reserve grade just a month ago, and it will be interesting to see what type of role he plays when he enters the action. Hunt was an interchange player at the start of his first grade career and spent the majority of time at hooker, however his explosive running game could be well suited to the utility role that Michael Morgan plays for the Maroons. Team changes are never ideal, and the two debutants will need to play their role to perfection if the Maroons are to match up to an unchanged Blues side.
The Blues have plenty of reason to feel confident after having the rare luxury of using an unchanged team for the entire series. New South Wales have finally found a combination of players that click, with new players such as Nathan Peats and James Tedesco firing in key positions. The forwards have been huge all series for the Blues, with their complete domination in game one causing plenty of changes to the Queensland forward pack. Queensland improved up front in game two, however their victory came on the back of brilliance in the backline, and the Blues pack remain far more intimidating. Andrew Fifita and Jarryd Hayne have both built a reputation as big game players, and they’ll both be looking to shine on the biggest stage there is.
He won’t confirm it himself, but there is a big chance that Game 3 will be Cooper Cronk’s final game for the Maroons as the odds of him retiring at seasons end appears more likely by the day. There is no player more clutch than Cronk, and you can guarantee that he will play his role to perfection on Wednesday night without letting emotions affect him. The Queensland halfback faces a massive challenge of guiding the team to victory without JT, and he will also need to help lead Munster through the game.
Facing up against him is a man who so desperately chases a series victory after being a regular member of the NSW side since 2008. The Blues always ended up turning back to Mitchell Pearce, and it appears their loyalty is starting to pay dividends as he is now doing a strong job of leading the Blues around. He’s scored a try in both games so far this series, however at times his game management has come into criticism, especially after NSW failed to hold onto a strong lead in Game 2. Pearce has a great chance of ending his Origin drought, however he will need to outplay Cronk if the Blues are to leave Brisbane with the shield.
With NSW finally assembling such a strong side as well as the absence of Thurston, the Blues appear to have a better chance than ever to claim State of Origin victory. Queensland have so much experience and big time players on their side, however NSW’s stronger forward pack just may get them that coveted victory.
NSW by 2
Queensland: 1. Billy Slater, 2. Valentine Holmes, 3. Will Chambers, 4. Michael Morgan, 5. Dane Gagai, 6. Cameron Munster, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Dylan Napa, 9. Cameron Smith (capt), 10. Jarrod Wallace, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Matt Gillett, 13. Josh McGuire.
18th man: Felise Kaufusi.
New South Wales: 1. James Tedesco, 2. Brett Morris, 3. Josh Dugan, 4. Jarryd Hayne, 5. Blake Ferguson, 6. James Maloney, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. Aaron Woods, 9. Nathan Peats, 10. Andrew Fifita, 11. Boyd Cordner (c), 12. Josh Jackson, 13. Tyson Frizell.
18th man: Jack de Belin.