Wally: Underdog status to spur Blues
There is no greater figure in State of Origin history than "King" Wally Lewis. He dominated it for over a decade with Queensland, and these days he is commenting on it as part of the Channel Nine team. Here, he speaks to NRL.com about how he sees Origin III panning out...
NRL.com: Plenty of people in NSW are saying the Blues' chances of winning have been badly hurt by the injury disruptions that have forced Jarryd Hayne and Paul Gallen out, and also Blake Ferguson's continued unavailability. What do you think?
Wally Lewis: They've taken a knock, but one of the biggest things about State of Origin is that the underdog status is something both teams want. Favouritism isn't something the Queenslanders enjoy, but they are the favourites this time even though they don't have a good overall record at ANZ Stadium. The underdog status might see the Blues fire on the night.
From a distance, Queensland's preparation appears to have gone smoothly. What are you hearing out of the camp?
They never tell you any different, but is seems like it has gone along OK. The biggest bonus is that there are no changes to the side from Game Two, so there are no interruptions to the process in terms of having to introduce new players to everything. That will be a comfort for the Maroons, but knowing Mal Meninga as well as I do I'm sure he would be spending whatever spare time he has available by going over everything with a fine-tooth comb and making sure he hasn't forgotten anything. He and Michael Hagan make a great combination in that regard.
Unlike in some previous series, there has been no war of words between the coaches. Is Laurie Daley too nice a bloke to hate?
They're best mates, so it's a bit hard to pretend you don't like the bloke. We in the media could come up with stories about them disliking each other, but people would see straight through it and know it was a load of rubbish. Mal and Laurie don't get into situations with each other like that; they just put their great friendship on hold while they get on with preparing their teams for the game.
How confident are you of a Queensland win?
It's a 50:50 game, that's the way I look at it. NSW have got the home-ground advantage, but the thing they have to overcome is the understanding the Queensland players have with each other. When you watch them close up in training, it is so clear. They have basically been together for seven years, with just gradual changes to the team along the way, and when you know so well what the players around you are capable of doing it does wonders for your own self-belief. NSW cannot possibly get even remotely close to Queensland in terms of the understanding and team skills of that group.
NSW winger James McManus found it difficult in his only previous Origin game, in 2009. Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd are going to put him under a lot of pressure again, aren't they?
I imagine they will. I feel sorry for Nathan Merritt, because he had to wait a long time to get a start and probably should have had a chance earlier, but James McManus has had a pretty good year. If they wanted to pick someone new then he deserves his position. He has earned it, and he is entitled to feel proud, but he will be aware there is a severe test coming. I'd say he'll tell himself that the first time the play comes his way he's got to be confident and act. But even the best players in the game, with heaps of experience, can have trouble with Inglis. He's capable of leaving a carton of eggs over anyone's face.
How much does the home-ground advantage mean to NSW?
It's been pretty good for them in the past. They've done pretty well at ANZ Stadium over the years, winning 14 out of 20 games and drawing one. But in the games where Queensland have absolutely had to perform well, in series deciders, they have done well there. I think the fact NSW have such a good overall record there will ensure the Maroons don't go in over-confident.
Did you ever think one State's domination of Origin could last as long as this run has for Queensland?
It's been an astounding run; no-one can deny that. It's been extraordinary to see them go on for this long. And they've got no plans to give it up. Origin was supposed to be dead whenever NSW won a few series in a row, but all that one team winning a few series does is build up the fight for the title the next year. Queensland would love to have the bragging rights for eight straight.
Queensland never get even slightly bored with beating NSW, do they?
No. One of the great things about Queensland is that, long before Origin, they would get flogged year after year, decade after decade by NSW, but the games at Lang Park would still always be sold out. And this Game Three in Sydney is sold out, which is great for the promotion of rugby league. But Queenslanders aren't happy with the fact we had two home games scheduled for this year and they took one off us. The vote went against Queensland... yet again!