State of Origin 3: let the mind games begin
Mal Meninga and the Maroons (AAP)
Far bigger than the NRL grand final, or any Test match.
This rugby league decider has everything, with NSW coach Ricky Stuart desperate to end Queensland’s six-year dominance at the top of the list.
But Suncorp isn’t a happy hunting ground for the men-in-blue. Since the turn of the century, Queensland has won 10-5. During the record six-year dominance, Queensland has won 6-2 at Suncorp.
The tension has been increased by two key players – Queensland’s mercurial full-back Billy Slater, and teak-tough NSW forward Glenn Stewart – suffering from knee injuries, with both extremely doubtful starters.
Both have been included in a record 19-man squad for NSW and 20 for Queensland, more in hope than reality, that must be trimmed to 17 by game time.
That in itself will give Stuart and counterpart Mal Meninga many a sleepless night.
Replacing Slater is the more intriguing problem of the two.
Meninga has two alternatives in crack centre Greg Inglis, who is going gangbusters at fullback with Souths, with the Storm’s Dane Nielsen set to take over Inglis’ centre spot.
Or the Cowboys’ electric Matt Bowen, who hasn’t played Origin since 2007.
Having said that, there’s no more electric footballer going around than gifted Bulldog fullback Ben Barba, but he’s not in the squad. The way he engineered the length of the field classic try of the season on the way to the Bulldogs upsetting Melbourne was breathtaking.
From the NSW point of view, Dragon Beau Scott will replace Glenn Stewart if necessary.
But both Stuart and Meninga are a master class when it comes to clouding issues. It’s the mind games they enjoy playing.
I’ll leave Mal Meninga with the last word to prove the point.
“If Billy tells me he’s right to go, he’s right to go”.