Fringe Queensland forward Jarrod Wallace expects a post-season State of Origin campaign to be ideal for players.
Looking back over State of Origin results in the last decade, the fixture should be extinct or at least a mere shadow of its former self.
Yet despite Queensland’s dominance over the last decade, Origin is still one of the biggest events in Australia and a ratings, crowd and content phenomenon.
This comes down to a couple of reasons, but one of the key driving factors is that even though New South Wales have won only two series in the last 13 years against one of the greatest spines ever assembled playing behind a monstrous pack, they often looked like they were only slightly off the pace.
Granted, there were times that they were blown off the park, but there were plenty of other times when a series was lost because of a stupid mistake or miracle play by the opposition in the dying minutes.
The beauty of Origin is that with every new match it seems like either side can win.
Heading into Game 3 of this year’s series, the Maroons go in as obvious underdogs following their 38-56 thrashing in Game 2. The Maroons relish this underdog tag.
The Blues should go into this game confident. In their last game they played exceptionally well with a perfect mix of aggression through the middle and speed on the edges. They completely dominated the Maroons in the second half even without an established halfback. They outclassed the Maroons across the park and coach Kevin Walters was visibly livid.
In what was one of the most honest press conferences in years he called the side a “two out of ten” and publicly derided the team for their attitude right from the kick-off.
And it’s for this reason that I wonder if an upset is on the cards despite the fact that the Maroons are missing one of their biggest talents in Kalyn Ponga. If the team isn’t compelled to play markedly better after Walters public lashing, perhaps they never will.
The truth is that the Maroons can’t play that poorly again. Veteran forwards like Josh Papali and Josh McGuire will be anxious to make amends after being outmuscled in Game 2, the teams will be buoyed by the return of Joe Ofahengaue from injury, and the Melbourne Storm’s Christian Welch making his debut should add some much-needed starch to their forward pack.
Enigmatic Dragon’s playmaker Corey Norman comes in for Ponga. While Norman is untested at Origin level, most commentators see him as the kind of player who can produce clutch plays in big moments.
Because of the clear underdog status, Kevin Walters has replaced the confident swagger that he had in Perth with the nervous emotional energy we saw early on in the series. It’s an energy the players seem to feed off.
The Blues may be the better team on paper, but this means little at Origin time. In the past players have become superhuman from putting on a Maroon shirt.
As a long-suffering Blues fan I can attest to witnessing many players growing another leg and far outplaying their club form.
Origin is about the intangibles – the effort on effort that the Blues lacked in the second half of Game 1 and the Maroons during the entirety of Game 2. In Game 2 almost no Queensland player played well. Walters would have been forgiven for mass changes, but he has shown faith in the core of his team, just like he has done throughout the whole series.
It makes me nervous to think how nicely the stage is being set to see Queensland swoop into Sydney to steal yet another series for a well-fancied Blues team.
The Blues will hope that the sellout Sydney crowd will be like an 18th player, yet I can’t shake that gnawing feeling that this could be another famous Maroons ambush.