State of Origin III preview: Who will win it?
And so it has come down to this. After all the talk, all the press, and all the mind games, we head to Brisbane for the deciding match of the 2012 State of Origin series.
The pinnacle of the rugby league calendar has lived up to expectations yet again. While you could argue that the quality of attacking football hasn’t been the very best we’ve seen at this level, the defence has been exceptional. And the tension, the drama, the intensity and the passion have all been of the highest standard.
The New South Wales team has improved tremendously, and shortened the gap between them and Queensland. But they must win in Brisbane, or everything positive they’ve done in the series, and the ground they’ve made up on Queensland, will be completely forgotten.
Meanwhile, Queensland will be buoyed by playing in front of their home crowd, and motivated to farewell Maroons legend Petero Civoniceva in style. There is also the small point of them chasing a seventh consecutive series win.
So, who’s going to actually win the match, and the series? Let’s analyse the key question for each team:
Do NSW know how to win?
It’s a fairly broad and loaded question. However, it’s quite evident to me that the Blues have forgotten how to win. And while that may be understandable given the last six years of Origin football, it won’t be an excuse should they lose game three.
The Maroons were completely out on their feet in the last quarter of game one, but the Blues couldn’t land the killer punch. They were extremely hesitant in attack, a fact best illustrated by Gallen’s decision to kick for goal forty metres out, despite his kicker, Carney, looking rattled all night.
In game two, the Blues should have won by 20 points, but they allowed a soft try on halftime, and though they weathered the expected late onslaught from the Maroons, they could have easily lost a game that they had dominated.
And in both games, the Blues fifth tackle options have been terrible. There has been a lack of variety in their kicking, with bombs the predominant weapon of choice, though often kicked right down a Maroon throat.
It all indicates that the Blues are a team that has forgotten what it takes to win.
Two key ingredients to winning Origin football are mental toughness and execution. NSW will be tested heavily in Brisbane on both of these qualities.
The Maroons will be fired up to play in front of their home ground, and to send Petero Civoniceva out of the Origin arena as a winner. The crowd will be baying for Blues blood. The refs will favour the home team. The environment will as hostile and intimidating as anything the NSW players have ever faced.
In that cauldron atmosphere, with pressure at its absolute highest, will NSW keep their composure and execute their game plan? In essence, do the Blues know how to win?
Is Queensland’s form thus far an indicator, or an aberration?
The Maroons have not played well in the series. It’s a credit to their talent and their heart that they head to Suncorp Stadium still favoured to win their seventh series in a row.
So, are Queensland due for a big game? Or should we judge them on their form?
Queensland are due for a big game. They possess far too much talent, plus a winning mentality, for them to play three consecutive bad games.
However, you can’t ignore the fact that they haven’t played well yet, and need to factor in what effect the Blues have had on their performances. It’s easy to say a team hasn’t played well, but that rarely gives the opposition the credit they deserve for ensuring the other team hasn’t played to their potential.
For example, Cooper Cronk has had a sub-par series, but the Blues rangy backrowers have done a great job of not allowing him a lot of room with the ball in hand. It’s cut down on the amount of time he has to make a decision and then execute it, and he therefore has rushed some plays.
Is that a case of Cronk not playing well, or the Blues not allowing him to play well?
In any case, despite not playing anywhere near their potential, the Maroons won game one, and could have easily won game two. This suggests that the Maroons will only require minimal improvement to win in Brisbane and extend their dynasty.
But will the Blues let them get better?
The heart says NSW. The head says Queensland.
When you’re making a decision, you should always attempt to make it with rational, rather than emotional, thinking. If that was the case, I’d pick Queensland.
They’re more talented. They’re playing at home. They know how to win. They’ll be motivated to send Petero off as a winner. Above all, they’re a truly great rugby league side.
And yet, I’m picking the Blues.
I could defend that decision from a rational point of view quite easily: the Blues have been the better team across the two opening games. Even the most ardent Maroons fan would admit that.
But I’m predicting the Blues will win from an emotional point of view.
Not because I’m from New South Wales and therefore being bias; though I’m sure Roarers north of the border will understandably jump on me for that.
No, the truth is that I get a feeling about this Blues team. Nothing rational, just pure emotion, based on a notion that this team is different to previous incarnations, and has a sense of destiny about it.
It’s the Blues time. Finally.
New South Wales Blues: 16
Queensland Maroons: 12
Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network and NBA Down Under, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.