From the moment the final whistle was blown on State of Origin Game 3, NSW coach Brad Fittler and his chief advisor Greg Alexander have resembled a pair of fiery pit bulls trying desperately to defend their turf.
An unbeaten century rated by hard-marking Marnus Labuschagne as one of his best has put Queensland on top in the Sheffield Shield final against NSW in Brisbane on Friday.
The Blues’ star-studded attack only took two wickets for the day as Test number three Labuschagne struck a chanceless 160 not out to guide the Bulls to 3-286 by stumps on Day 2 at Allan Border Field.
Queensland hold an overall lead of 143 with Matt Renshaw 29 not out in an unbroken 73-run stand.
Labuschagne defied NSW’s Test arsenal of Mitchell Starc (1-32), Josh Hazlewood (1-35) and off spinner Nathan Lyon (1-87) to bat all day and put the Bulls in the box seat to claim Shield title number nine and their first since 2017-18.
Labuschagne notched his fourth Shield ton this season, becoming the first batsman to achieve the feat since Tasmania’s Ben Dunk in 2015-16.
Asked if he had compiled a better innings this season, Labuschagne said: “No, maybe not even ever.
“I didn’t get greedy. I just took the runs on offer. I wasn’t rushed or flustered, I just played to my game.
“It’s up there with the one of the better ones I have played.”
Labuschagne registered his third ton in as many Shield games this season against NSW, coming out on top in an intriguing battle with the wily Lyon.
“I always say I want to challenge myself against the best opposition and NSW are nothing short of a phenomenal team,” Labuschagne said.
“Their bowling line-up is amazing. I love to play against them when they are fit and firing.”
Labuschagne struck 19 boundaries in his 284-ball knock, pushing his Shield season run tally to 789 runs at 87.66.
It continues a stellar season, which also featured 426 runs at 53.25 in the Test series against India.
After Queensland resumed on Friday at 1-58, Labuschagne shared a 126-run second-wicket stand with patient opener Bryce Street (46) to set up a huge first-innings lead for the hosts.
Street had lives on 14 and 27 but finally fell after lunch, caught behind off Lyon, ending an epic 203-ball knock that featured just five fours.
Ex-Test batsman Usman Khawaja (23) then shared a 60-run stand with Labuschagne before Renshaw chimed in.
IPL duties ensured NSW were without Steve Smith, Pat Cummins, David Warner and Moises Henriques for the Shield final.
But the Blues were still backing themselves to claim consecutive Shield titles for the first time since 1993-94 and a record 48th crown overall with a bowling arsenal also featuring Trent Copeland and Sean Abbott.
The Blues are at risk of suffering just their second loss in 14 games against Queensland in the five-day decider, however Lyon had not given up.
“It was a tough day but credit where it is due, Marnus was a class above,” he said.
“(But) the game is not dead yet. If we take the rest of the wickets quickly and bat two days there will be some nervous people in the Queensland change rooms.”