The winner of tonight’s State of Origin decider will be determined by whoever starts the game fastest. As we’ve seen in the first two games, it’s the team that has dominated the first 15 or 20 minutes that has been able to get a real stranglehold on the game and I think that will very much be the case again tonight.
I can’t see it being a grinding sort of affair. I’m pretty sure it will be one side that will dominate those early stages. That tends to be the case in Origin football – you try and build that momentum into that first half of football.
There is a huge psychological advantage that momentum brings. When you start to get on top – especially if you can jag a try in the first 10 minutes – all of a sudden you’ll find that momentum will really start to swing your way. That’s usually the case in any game but it is magnified in State of Origin. Because it is such a high-tempo game, because there is a lot on the line and so much expectation on each team’s performance, once you open that door to your opposition, all of a sudden you will find yourself on the back foot and it is so hard in Origin to try to turn the tide of momentum. And of course, once you have it you can really push that advantage.
That’s why the crowd can play such a significant role in Origin. It was an unbelievable atmosphere at ANZ for Game One and no doubt NSW rode that all the way to victory. Similarly in Game Two back at Suncorp it was a real cauldron. For a player playing at their home stadium in front of crowds like that, it adds another five or 10 per cent to your performance. It is going to be a huge challenge for Queensland to overcome that tonight. The past few years they haven’t fared too well in Sydney and they will have to get on top of that NSW crowd very early if they are to make it eight in a row.
The way I see it, Queensland are under more pressure to win this game than NSW. They are trying to continue this amazing run and for the Queensland players, as proud as they are, it would be difficult to comprehend being in the side that ends this amazing run they’ve been on. For NSW, this is an opportunity to create their own bit of history.
NSW have lost Paul Gallen so most punters would be tipping Queensland knowing that the Blues’ courageous leader is not playing but if anything the NSW boys will see this as an opportunity. It would have solidified their bond as a group. Yes they’ve lost their skipper but that can be overcome by a complete team performance. They’ve certainly got the talent to do that.
The thing that impresses me about this NSW side is that they are all in pretty hot form at the moment. Perhaps James Tamou has been a bit hot-and-cold but I’m sure he is eyeing this as redemption. He would probably feel guilty that he didn’t play his part in Game Two and sees this as an opportunity to turn that around.
Having said that, Queensland found the key to success in Game Two and I expect them to look to do exactly the same this time around which will ask plenty of questions of the Blues. Queensland will have recognised that the key to their win in Game Two was the speed and ferocity of their performance. They really attacked the edges and got at James Maloney. Sam Thaiday did a great job at that, trying to chew his energy down and reduce his involvement in attack. If that was the plan they certainly did that and asked questions of the NSW edge defence. Their attack laterally was fantastic. They had plenty of numbers in motion and really troubled the NSW defensive line. They forced them to make a lot of decisions that are hard to make when you’ve got guys like Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd on the end of a Johnathan Thurston pass.
Obviously as a proud Queenslander myself I’m tipping the Maroons to win. Going on their last performance, they will be very difficult to contain if they can bring that same aggression and speed. Whether NSW can replicate their Game One performance again we’ll have to wait and see but the Queensland boys will come into this one full of confidence and will look to use that approach again.