This article follows on from my recent article ‘The Australian coaches dream team‘ and this time I have selected a team made up of some of the great players who have coached either New South Wales or Queensland since State of Origin began in 1980.
All league fans know that New South Wales struggle to win at Suncorp Stadium.
Add in the extra pressure of a series decider and it becomes even more difficult tonight. In the 40 years of Origin, the Blues have only won two deciders in Brisbane, with the most recent success way back in 2005.
Queensland were disappointing in Game 2, in what coach Wayne Bennett later called an “attitude”-driven loss. His counterpart, Brad Fittler, reckons that luck was on their side in the 34-10 victory. But what lessons does each side take away from ANZ? How do they turn what they’ve learnt into victory this evening?
I’ll dive into the keys to victory for each side and give you my bold prediction.
New South Wales
If the Blues win the toss, they would be wise to kick off and allow their forwards to make a strong, early impact again. In the first set of Game 2, the NSW defence didn’t allow Queensland past their own 20-metre line. This allowed the Blues to set the pace and dictate field position early on. Plus, the crowd at Suncorp will be particularly vocal with restricted numbers from NSW, so this will be a great way to silence the Queensland fans.
The backs were phenomenal last game. Utilising skill and experience, all six tries were scored on the edge by exposing Queensland’s rookies. Nathan Cleary’s man of the match-worthy game management opened up the edges and allowed the NSW backs to dominate for the majority of the game.
However, as coaches will tell you: offence wins games, but defence wins championships. Jack Wighton and Clint Gutherson both enjoyed bounce-back games in terms of their defensive efforts which certainly restricted Queensland’s edge attack. For Fittler’s men to win in enemy territory, the backline needs to repeat their dominant performance.
The loss of Cameron Munster less than two minutes into Game 2 affected the Maroons in more ways than one. Ben Hunt came on in replacement and was virtually invisible for the remainder of the game, largely leaving all the kicking and game management to Daly Cherry-Evans.
Although it was an undeniably tough night at ANZ, there are some positives heading into Game 3.
The five changes to the line-up will alter the game plan significantly. At the time of writing, Corey Allan is starting at fullback, with Valentine Holmes on the wing. This is a key alteration as these key backs will start the game in their most effective positions.
Allan started at fullback for the Rabbitohs after Latrell Mitchell went down and played a key role in their playoff push, while Holmes and the Cowboys had a disappointing season. The ex-Shark missed six games with an ankle injury and the Cows finished 14th on the ladder.
With Allan making his Origin debut and Holmes on the wing, I fully expect them to have a big impact when fatigue sets in midway through the game.
Finally, the addition of rising superstar Harry Grant is a major play by Bennett. On loan from the Storm, Grant was a bright spark in an otherwise dim season for Wests. His growth has prompted critics to question how the Storm will handle having Cameron Smith, Brandon Smith and himself on their playing roster next year, that’s how good he was for the Tigers.
Expect him to come on around the 20-30 minute mark, once starting hooker Jake Friend has set the pace and the Roosters number nine starts to fatigue a bit.
In doing so, Grant – much like his counterpart Damien Cook – will exploit tired defensive markers and gain significant metres with enthusiasm and tenacity. Although the young hooker is making his Queensland bow, don’t expect him to struggle with the emotional and physical toll the Origin cauldron has on players. He will rise to the challenge and be a game-changer for years to come.
This is an intriguing clash tonight.
I fully expect Queensland to unleash a flurry of blows early to stagger and disorientate the Blues. If the Blues falter and struggle to control field position, Queensland will score tries early and then slow the ruck to control the match.
But if NSW can weather the storm and ignore the raving and passionate Queensland fans, the talent and experience on the team will be too great to control.
Excuse me while I wash out my mouth with soap.
Queensland by 13.