Kevin Walters, NRL.com
This is the biggest game since the inception of State of Origin in 1980. The importance of a New South Wales win, being at the home of Origin Suncorp Stadium, plus Petero’s swansong, it is huge.
I know Blues fans won’t agree with me, but Suncorp Stadium is the home of State of Origin. Your stadium down there is the home for grand finals and all the rest of it, but Origin belongs at Suncorp. It was born there and this game deserves to be in Queensland. I’m getting excited just writing about it. They could probably sell-out three Suncorp Stadiums on the night, that is how much hype and excitement there is for this game.
If you put it into a club perspective, it would be like the Melbourne Storm winning six premierships in a row, it just isn’t going to happen. This Origin streak is unheard of. I think New South Wales have some confidence going in and Queensland need to lift their game otherwise the trophy will be heading south of the tweed.
I’m not nervous heading into the decider, I just think the home advantage is huge for the Maroons. It will be a massive emotion-charged atmosphere and that will give our guys a lot of confidence.
Petero has played 32 Origin games and he has been an important part of the side for a long time. They’ll want to send him out the way he deserves. Not everyone gets a fairytale finish, but he deserves it.
The biggest thing hanging over both camps is the uncertainty in their squads. You can see that by both teams naming extended squads. It is not ideal, particularly from a Queensland point of view; the fullback is a very important position and you’d like that to be settled heading into such a big game. They probably have settled it by basically ruling Billy Slater out and picking Matt Bowen. If Slater is fit, he’ll come into the side, but they’ll train with Bowen at the back and it looks to be the way they will go.
They’ll train as if Slater isn’t playing, but then if he does play it would be a massive bonus. I doubt that he’ll play. I haven’t had a lot of contact with him in the last week, but knowing the injury and what the doctors are saying and knowing that there could be some long-term risks, you’d have to think he wouldn’t be playing. But it is Billy Slater and there is an element of the unknown with him.
Mal Meninga has two options and there is no guarantee which way he’ll go. I think he is playing ducks-and-drapes and a little bit of cat-and-mouse with the New South Wales boys.
I have to say I agree with Meninga on picking Bowen over Ben Barba for this clash. Queensland like to ease their players into Origin and Barba isn’t very experienced. He hasn’t played in grand finals, or any of those big end of season games, it would have been a big ask. There is no doubt that Barba will get a game for Queensland at some stage. But at the moment, I tend to agree with Meninga; I’m sure he could handle it, but there are other options available which mean we didn’t have to put him there for his debut in that environment. It just isn’t the right time for him. It is such a big game, and it would have been unfair to expect Barba to come in and play like he does at club level - they are two totally different beasts.
Matt Bowen’s combination with Thurston will be key. Let’s face it, JT has been quiet by his standards in the first two games, but he is the man for me. Thurston and Cam Smith will be the catalyst for a Maroons victory. I’m expecting them both to step up on the biggest Origin occasion and show what quality players they are. Everything will start with them and historically they have been Queensland’s go-to men when the game has been on the line.
There is not a cooler customer than Cameron Smith; I’ve never seen him get flustered at my time at the Storm. Already NSW media have put pressure on him by saying this will be the first Maroons captain to lose a series. But he has been there before and won as captain in a decider, it is nothing new to him. When Darren Lockyer missed the 2008 decider with a knee injury Smith led the side to victory, and I expect him to do the same thing on Wednesday night.
I’m not expecting this game to be as brutal, I’m expecting the magnificent skills of these players to come to the fore. I think that will suit Queensland more so than New South Wales.
Both teams have an enormous amount of skill and we haven’t seen that hit its full potential yet. We’ve seen the brutality, but I think in game three we see the skills of both teams and that is what I’m looking forward to more than anything.
I’ll be going up for the game, it is too big an occasion to miss. I can’t wait to get up there.
I think Queensland will prevail 22-18, and Johnathan Thurston will be man-of-the-match.
Go the Maroons!
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