Origin is a special competition, from its unique nature fostered by a state duopoly on the NRL to the passion it ignites that is generally reserved for only the fiercest international sporting rivalries.
With one hand on the State of Origin shield, Queensland can reclaim the series with a win in Game Two, which will be played at Perth’s Optus Stadium this Sunday night.
It will be just the second time that a State of Origin match has been played outside of Australia’s East Coast, with one exhibition match played in Los Angeles in 1987.
Optus Stadium, which opened for business early last year, will become the tenth different venue to host a State of Origin match, with the Adelaide Oval to join that list next year.
The first game of this year’s series saw the Maroons come from 8-0 down at half-time to record an 18-14 win at Suncorp Stadium, marking their second consecutive win after also winning the third game at home as well.
Fullback Kalyn Ponga produced the best match of his fledgling Origin career, while Dane Gagai scored a length-of-the-field intercept try to give his state first blood.
Coach Kevin Walters has promised that his side will only get better, which is bad news for the Blues, who will head west attempting to keep the series alive and force a decider on their home turf at ANZ Stadium on July 10.
There are only two changes to the side, with Jai Arrow the only forced omission due to injury. This means Dylan Napa earns a promotion to the starting side, with Tim Glasby to warm up the bench. Jarrod Wallace is the other inclusion, at the expense of Joe Ofahengaue.
The Daily Telegraph has reported that should Brad Fittler’s side drop the second game, and hence the series, the Olympic Stadium would be at risk of not selling out to capacity.
Only 61,267 fans attended Game Three in 2016, which was already won by the Maroons inside the first two games, while 61,259 people saw the Blues suffer the first Origin whitewash since 2000 in 2010, when the northerners took out the final encounter 23-18.
But should the Blues win Game Two, then a sell-out of over 80,000 would be expected for the series decider.
Fittler has made several changes to his line-up, including dropping centre Latrell Mitchell, whose form has suffered in recent weeks. Not even a two-try performance against the Bulldogs last week could prevent him from being axed.
The catalyst for his omission was being sin-binned midway through the second half in Game One, at which point the match was still evenly poised before the Blues imploded.
Knights captain Mitchell Pearce was in line for a recall following an impressive patch of form for his club, however injury has again robbed him of the chance to again represent his state.
Back-to-back best-on-ground performances from James Maloney against the Roosters and Rabbitohs were enough for him to earn a recall, where he will partner his Panthers team-mate Nathan Cleary in the halves.
Wade Graham and Blake Ferguson both return, the former just one match into his comeback from a knee injury he suffered last season, while Daniel Saifiti and Dale Finucane will both make their debuts. David Klemmer is the only forced change due to injury.
Why the Maroons will win
With one hand on the trophy, they’ll want to wrap up the series before heading to Sydney where they have the chance to complete just their second whitewash since 1995.
For Kalyn Ponga and Dane Gagai, backing up their Game One performances will be paramount to the Maroons winning Game Two in foreign territory, while coach Kevin Walters will also be banking on the effort of captain Daly Cherry-Evans to get them over the line.
Also, the last time the Maroons won an opener, they went on to win the series with a win in Game Two at Suncorp Stadium in 2016.
Why the Blues will win
The lure of forcing a series decider on home turf, plus the experience Brad Fittler has brought into the side, will be what inspires the Blues to a series-saving victory this Sunday night.
The Blues have also won the last two Origin matches played on neutral territory, though both of them were at the MCG, and will relish playing at the new Optus Stadium.
If James Maloney and Nathan Cleary – whose club form at the Panthers had suffered in the first half of the season as their club languished near the bottom of the ladder – can lift at Origin level, then there is no reason to believe they cannot save their state from the potential embarrassment of a three-quarters full ANZ Stadium on July 10.
It’s hard to go past Queensland especially after they won the first game, and I’ll back them in again by eight points.