New South Wales v Queensland Preview

New South Wales v Queensland
ANZ Stadium
Wednesday 8.10pm

Blues selectors have opted for a “something old, something new” approach to Game Three, sacking players, blooding players and recalling players as they battle to stave off an embarrassing 3-0 series whitewash.

The selection process after Game Two’s capitulation was neither wholesale changes nor supportive retention, but rather a curious mix of both – which left those in the Queensland camp again shaking their heads in astonishment.

In total, and for a variety of reasons, selectors made eight changes – bringing the total number of players they’ve called on in this year’s series to 30, equalling their most ever.

First up, interchange Kurt Gidley relinquishes the captaincy to five-eighth Trent Barrett. (Psst – expect Mark Gasnier to be captain for Game One in 2011…)

But the pivotal change is that the Blues will enter the clash with a three-prop rotation with a combined zero games’ experience at Origin level. With Michael Weyman suspended last round and Brett White dumped, the Blues will start Manly co-captain Jason King and boom Shark Kade Snowden in the front row, with Parramatta’s young workhorse Tim Mannah coming off the bench.

Back-rowers Trent Waterhouse and Ben Creagh have been given the flick; their spots are claimed by Luke Lewis (who missed Game Two through suspension) and Paul Gallen, who shifts from lock.

Titans five-eighth Greg Bird gets an Origin recall, moving into the pack to lock the scrum, while Manly’s Anthony Watmough, who missed Game Two with injury, reclaims his spot on the bench.

By comparison, Queensland have made just the one change, with Ben Hannant missing out to accommodate Petero Civoniceva’s return from injury.

The irony is that if he were a New South Welshman, there’s every chance Hannant would have been first prop picked.

Coach watch:
Craig Bellamy will want to go out with a bang in his final game as mentor of NSW. He enters this clash with a shocking 2-6 record for just a 25 per cent return – way down on his 67 per cent winning rate with the Storm.

Mal Meninga now boasts a dominant 71 per cent winning record from his 14 games guiding Queensland.

Watch out New South Wales:
Where do we start? Have you got an hour?

Distilled to its essence, if the Blues don’t target and stop halfback Johnathan Thurston, he’ll carve them to ribbons.

Thurston thrives behind a pack going forward, so the first step is to establish some territorial dominance. With that come the obligatory forward charges – which should be aimed at Thurston and co-playmaker Darren Lockyer at every opportunity. The objective is to hustle, bustle, and tire them out, leaving them with reduced timeframes for their decision-making.

A split second’s worth less time to execute a play can make all the difference.

Elsewhere, stopping Petero Civoniceva’s surges through the middle will be a priority. You just know he’ll make stacks of metres, carrying Blues with him. This year he’s averaging 147 metres from 51 minutes of game time.

The secret to his success is that defenders rarely cut off his legs, which he’ll keep pumping to get through the defensive line. The Blues’ defenders need to go in low and have others flop on him to slow down the pace of the play-the-ball. It’s a fine line between great execution and a penalty, but it will be an effective nullifier.  

Watch out Queensland: Greg Bird has two man of the match awards from just four Origin games. A player with that sort of record must be respected. And it’s a big call for selectors to thrust him into the lock position. Combined with Paul Gallen (most hit-ups in the NRL with 308, most running metres with 2399) they’ll be a formidable, aggressive force for Queensland to counter.

But the biggest hint to the NSW game plan lies in the fact that Gallen and Bird rank second and fourth in the NRL for offloads, with 36 and 33 respectively. Also, centre Beau Scott ranks fifth with 31.

Conversely, no Maroon features in the top 20 in the category.

Where it will be won: Experience, attitude and intensity.

With experience comes the right attitude and the required intensity. In this regard Queensland hold all the aces. Their forward pack has a combined 82 games of Origin experience, compared to NSW’s 19. In the backs, Darren Lockyer’s 32 games are five more than the combined games tally of the NSW backs! Enough said.

The history: Played 89 (since 1980); NSW 41, Queensland 46, drawn 2. The Maroons have won the past three games at ANZ Stadium.

Conclusion: Queensland butchered their chance of a cleans-weep last year when they partied a little too hard after clinching their fourth consecutive series in Game Two. Word out of the camp this year there is there has been a much more conservative preparation, with the focus on getting the job done through Game Three.

Obviously it will be a huge occasion for the Blues rookies, who will be primed and pumped. But it’s likely Queensland will be hungrier. Given there’s a chance this game will be Mal Meninga’s swansong as coach of Queensland, should he accept a UK coaching role, they’ll be hitting the line as though it were Game One.

Queensland by four to 10 points.     

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Shayne Hayne; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & David Abood; Video Refs – Bill Harrigan and Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm.