Injuries, form, and the small matter of restoring state pride at a packed Lang Park have forced Mal Meninga to ring the Queensland Maroons team changes for State of Origin Game 3.
After the Game 1 grind-a-thon and the Game 2 excitement fest, it’s unclear how play will unfold in next Wednesday’s decider.
What we do know is that until the final siren sounds, these blokes will hate anything sky blue – even the daytime sky itself – on their quest to restore order to the rugby league universe.
1. Greg Inglis
Has there been a greater no-try in rugby league history than GI’s Game 2 snatch-and-grab at the G?
Inglis looked like he’d double-dropped the angry pills in Melbourne and should have a license to roam in Brisbane as he steps into the No.1 jersey so capably filled by the semi-immortal Billy Slater.
Be afraid, Blues fans. At Suncorp, no one can hear you scream.
2. Darius Boyd
Darius Boyd did his leftside partner in crime Inglis a solid by dishing off a try assist in Melbourne, but it remains to be seen how he will cope without the wrecking ball offering him a saloon passage to the tryline in Brisbane.
Given Darius has overcome a much bigger foe in the black dog in recent times, a little left-edge loneliness shouldn’t trouble him at all. And with the man looking more dangerous in the Broncos’ No.1 every week, Blues fans should be afraid.
3. Will Chambers
It wasn’t quite a hero-to-zero performance, but let’s be frank here – Will Chambers a fortnight ago stunk up the MCG more than that infamous Origin stink of 1995.
Until that point, he’d been close to the form centre of the competition, and Queensland will be all the better for him getting attacking ball in space rather than punching out the dummy-half runs out of trouble.
4. Justin Hodges
So at sea did Justin Hodges look when he got absolutely schooled by Michael Jennings in Melbourne that he looked like he’d be flat out catching a tram.
To which I say, “Bottle it up, Hodgo. Let the hate flowwwww through you.” Queensland’s niggliest grub will no doubt want to finish his rep career on a high, so hopefully he’ll have regained that lost yard of pace by showtime.
5. Dane Gagai
Already at short odds to claim Brent Tate’s freshly retired No.5 when Will Chambers moves into Hodgo’s spot next year, Dane Gagai’s Origin debut has probably come a year earlier than the Queensland brains trust had hoped.
Has looked a god among men surrounded by a fairly insipid Knights outfit this year, and his wild-card factor could prove key if play opens up.
6. Johnathan Thurston
JT looks determined to singlehandedly drag his Cowboys side to their maiden NRL premiership this year, but there’s the small trifle of unfinished Origin business to take care of first.
Despite struggling to find room amidst the surging Blues defence this series, he was the best half on the park behind a beaten pack in Melbourne.
With the series on the line, the Maroons playmaker needs to shine.
7. Cooper Cronk
Rumour has it that a droid was recently deployed to Melbourne carrying a holographic message: “Help us Cooper Cronk, you’re our only hope.”
Whether Cronk replied “I don’t seem to remember ever owning a droid” is unclear, but the facts can’t be disputed.
When cool, calm and collected control of a team is required in the clutch, Cooper Cronk will be there, dishing out Jedi mind tricks just like he’s shooting wamp rats back home.
Expect his knee to be the most talked-about thing in Australia for the next 10 days.
8. Matt Scott
The Maroons bruiser got upstaged by some young bucks in Game 2, but don’t expect a repeat in Brisbane.
Scott ruled the midfield in his second stint in Sydney, has been in superb form for the Cowboys, and doesn’t need the long, flowing locks and knotted beard of other, less self-confident front-rowers to assert his authority on a match.
Matt Scott will be keen to earn his ‘big unit points’ back (Image: Joe Castro / AAP)
9. Cameron Smith
The puppet master will be pulling the strings as only he can when the teams take the field next week.
And when he’s done with the refs, he’ll help his mate Cooper Cronk steer Queensland around the park.
10. Nate Myles
Much like his front-row bookend Scott, Nate Myles was bashed from pillar to post at the MCG.
But Queensland’s most consistent forward performer for two Origin campaigns running racked up an impressive 141 metres in the first game, so the big time clearly hasn’t passed him by.
If he doesn’t dominate in Game 3, though, his time in maroon may nearly be up.
11. Aidan Guerra
There’s been plenty to like about Aidan Guerra’s 2015 Origin campaign, but like all the back-rowers on both teams he’s struggled to crack what have been a pair of imposing defensive structures.
He’s got a good motor on him, so should shine if the Queenslanders start tossing the ball around late in each half.
12. Sam Thaiday
When Sam Thaiday ran back onto the MCG in the second half of Game 2, my mate next to me at the game said “I didn’t even know Thaiday was playing”. With five runs for 38 metres, he may as well not have made the trip down south.
A tactical relegation to start big Sam off the bench might be just what Queensland need to get some fire burning in that formidable belly.
13. Corey Parker
In case you missed it, Corey Parker was on the opposite end of one of the great rugby league sledges from David Klemmer at the MCG.
Sadly, it’s unprintable on a family site such as The Roar, but make no mistake – if CP13 wants the Blues to show come respect, he’ll need a big game to earn it back.
If he gets his offload on, expect the Maroons little men to run amok.
14. Michael Morgan
Morgan’s highlights reel in Melbourne was largely forgettable – a dropped slips catch from a Blues attacking kick, an accidental ball strip to deny the no-try that stopped a nation – but the Cowboys’ 6’s combination with Johnathan Thurston is something the Maroons must be keen to exploit.
Did look one of the most likely to make a line break on an ANZ Stadium track that no one looked likely to make a break on as well.
Also offers versatility as a utility should Mal and co wish to rearrange the backline chess pieces at any time, and could slot straight into five-eighth with JT moving into halfback should the most-talked about knee in Australia not shape up in time.
15. Josh Papalii
Big Papa came into the 2015 season looking like he’d spent most of Spring/Summer 2014/15 exploring the buffets of the Nation’s Capital, but has slowly played himself back into shape and form since reclaiming his rightful place on the Raiders’ right edge.
Has done enough at Origin level to show he belongs, but is an ineffectual game or two away from going the way of Dave Taylor. Josh McGuire’s headband will be watching his performance with great interest.
16. Matt Gillett
Matt Gillett’s past month at the Broncos has included some of the most impressive club performances of his life, yet he’s still yet to set the Origin arena on fire 11 games into his career.
It’s fair to say only Mr and Mrs Gillett had noticed him on the field in maroon until that jinking, thrusting run towards the Punt Road tryline in Melbourne. Queensland fans will be hoping he’s been building up to something even more special in Brisbane.
17. Jacob Lillyman
Jacob Lillyman in Origin is like being alive in the ‘60s – if you can remember him, you weren’t there.
Seriously, though, the brick with arms has this series struggled to eat up the metres as consistently as he does in Warriors kit. Bench impact is where the Maroons fell short in Game 2, so Queensland needs a career game from the veteran campaigner when the flagship series of the greatest game of all reaches its climax at the Cauldron.