The 2019 Sheffield Shield final will feature minor premiers the Victorian Bushrangers, and the New South Wales Blues. The match is scheduled to start on Thursday, March 28 at 10:30am (AEDT).
The Blues will be out for a rare series sweep but more pressure lies on the home side at Suncorp Stadium tonight.
1. Cherry-Evans takes centre stage
The stakes are highest for recalled Queensland halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. At 29 years of age, Cherry-Evans needs a Queensland victory to put a mortgage on the halfback spot for next year’s series, or he risks being cast aside for good.
On pure talent and class, he is Queensland’s best halfback, however he has had a mixed few years, with continual snubs, a mediocre season at Manly, as well as tirades directed at him from former teammate Anthony Watmough.
With the likes of Kayln Ponga and Ash Taylor on the horizon, Cherry-Evans needs to put in a commanding performance to convince the Queensland public that he is capable of lifting his game to the next level.
2. Farewell Billy the Kid
Billy Slater will play his final game for Queensland and, fittingly, captain his state for the first time.
Slater will go down as an all-time great, having revolutionised the way the fullback role is played, with his all-action displays in attack and defence lifting the bar.
While it’s perhaps easier to maintain form as a 34-year-old in the halves or at hooker, it’s more remarkable for a fullback to be near the peak of his powers, which Slater remains.
His impact coming into both series in Game 2 in 2017 and 2018 was immediate, and it’s a credit to his mental determination and professionalism that he has returned in such great form, despite missing nearly two years of footy with serious shoulder injuries.
3. Walters looks like a man feeling the strain
It’s a big game for Kevin Walters too, who has been under pressure this series and looked emotionally drained when he lashed out at the social media criticism of his team.
He has had a tough year, after quitting his assistant role at the Broncos, and dealing with a number of team disruptions with the Maroons, including the shock retirement of Cameron Smith.
While losing his first series in his third year in charge could hardly be considered a disaster, getting swept at home would not go down well.
4. Clean sweep a rare chance for Blues
Last time the Blues won a series was back in 2014, and they found themselves in the same situation 2-0, heading to Queensland with talk that the Maroons’ era of dominance was over.
They were subsequently belted 32-8 at Suncorp Stadium, then lost the next three series.
It’s not imperative the Blues win Game 3, as clean sweeps are hard to come by, with just two achieved in the last 21 years, despite the domination of Queensland. However it is a golden opportunity to really put a dagger into a fragile Maroons set up.
This NSW team has plenty of young players bound to get better, and winning in Queensland would be a major psychological blow ahead of next year’s series.
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5. Cleary looks to make his mark
Nathan Cleary is probably going to be the Blues’ halfback for many years to come. He has done well this series, however has been far from a standout.
The treatment Queensland dished out to Ben Hunt, dropping their halfback after two games, and also the way Mitchell Pearce has become the whipping boy for NSW shows the scrutiny halfbacks come under when their team doesn’t win. The fact that NSW are up 2-0 has helped Cleary ease into a role he has not truly commanded in either game to date.
But with the series wrapped up, he will be looking to have more impact in attack in Game 3 and share more responsibilities with James Maloney.