Sterling Gold: Origin's biggest game ever?
I don't believe it is an exaggeration to say that along with the first ever game back in 1980, next Wednesday's encounter at Suncorp Stadium is the most significant match in Origin history.
Queensland's unprecedented winning run under serious threat, NSW's resurgence with a new approach under their first full-time coach, the fact it is a deciding rubber and of course the final Origin game to be played by Darren Lockyer all add up to one blockbuster of an 80 minutes.
In front of a rabid home crowd it will be a particularly emotional occasion for the Maroons skipper, although with his wealth of experience Darren will no doubt be doing his best to treat it the same way as he has his previous 35 appearances for his beloved state.
It's a difficult task to write about the great man because quite honestly all the superlatives available have already been used.
I've always said that the true greatness of a player is measured by consistent excellence and longevity, and he obviously has that criteria well covered.
However there are two other factors that I believe also show his elite nature in the sport.
The first is that since making both his Origin and Test debuts in 1998 he has been an automatic selection if fit for any representative team selected. I cannot think of any other player in the modern era to whom that has applied.
The second is that at 34 years of age he is still acknowledged by opposing teams as the greatest hurdle in their pursuit of victory. Going into next week's decider he will have been spoken about in the Blues' preparation in the same breath as Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater.
In fact whilst Smith took out the official man-of-the-match after a typically strong effort in Game 1, personally I felt that Lockyer was the most influential contributor in the side's win.
If successful, Darren will emulate the grand finales of a number of other greats who all finished illustrious careers with triumph in deciders.
In 1991 the best of all, “The King” Wally Lewis, bowed out after 31 appearances with a 14-12 victory.
Just over a decade later, his early days partner in crime Allan Langer was man-of-the-match in a third game draw which saw Queensland retain the trophy after their success the previous year.
It was then NSW's turn to get in on the act with both Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns finishing their Origin careers with series-deciding victories in 2004 and 2005.
It would seem that history augurs well for Lockyer's prospects next week.
His Origin career is almost evenly split between his time as a fullback and his eventual move to five-eighth during the '04 series. He played 16 matches as custodian and will finish with 20 matches in the No.6 jersey.
It makes very interesting reading to look through the number of opponents he has faced since pushing up from the back.
In his 19 matches, the Blues have used a remarkable eight different opponents at five-eighth to try and combat him.
They have been Brad Fittler, Trent Barrett, Braith Anasta, Mark Gasnier, Greg Bird, Terry Campese, Jamie Lyon and now Jamie Soward.
Surprisingly, Anasta was Lockyer's most frequent combatant with six encounters. It all began well for Braith with three straight wins, but things turned and he was on the losing side in the last three meetings.
Gasnier, Campese, Lyon and Bird were all given just one shot against him, with the current Titan being the only one to taste success.
Like all long-serving great players, Darren has been able to modify his game to accommodate the effects of the passing of time.
Early in his career he was a brilliant runner of the football which featured scything runs from the back field, especially from right to left. Whilst he has maintained good speed, his game is now based around the quality of his passing and the coolness in his decision-making. He is still arguably the very best at steering a side home in the latter stages of a contest.
Producing “clutch” plays when required has always been his forte and there have been countless times that he has been the engineer of match-deciding efforts for the Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos.
His final season of rugby league is fittingly a record-breaking one.
He will hang up his boots as the most-capped Origin and Test player of all time, and after five more appearances for Brisbane will surpass Terry Lamb and Steve Menzies for the greatest number of first-grade games.
Legendary coach Jack Gibson was often quoted as saying he didn't pay much attention to a player's scrapbook. Even the supercoach couldn't help to be impressed by the one that Darren Lockyer will leave our game with.