The Maroons have plenty of strike in their backs but they will win the State of Origin series decider if the middle forwards aim up and play as coach Kevin Walters knows they can.
The blueprint for an upset win by Queensland in Sydney was set in the second half of Origin I at Suncorp Stadium where Josh Papalii, Jai Arrow and company rattled the Blues and got right up in their face. That frustrated NSW out of the game.
That didn’t happen at all in Perth where the Maroons were stuck in their own half and found it nigh on impossible to get any momentum through the middle of the park.
When Walters spoke about how disappointed he was by the kick-off to start the game in Perth it was because he knew pinning the Blues in their own end early and keeping them there was the key to success. Instead, Daniel Saifiti took the ball over the 20-metre line and poked his nose through in the first hit-up.
Papalii has played some great games for Queensland in recent times but he wouldn’t have been pleased with his Perth performance. That was compounded by Dylan Napa and Jarrod Wallace not firing.
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The Blues have got real strike players in James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic. Let their forwards get a roll-on and those two will have a field day again.
NSW also have more ball-playing forwards than the Maroons with guys like Jake Trbojevic the best of them. The last thing NSW will want is to get in an arm wrestle with Queensland. The Maroons must set that trap and keep the Blues bogged down.
Walters has made the right changes in bringing back Joe Ofahengaue and giving Christian Welch his Maroons debut. They will play a major role in making sure the blueprint for Maroons success is followed to the letter.
That will simply be pinning NSW down their own end early and frustrating them out of the game with energy and a great attitude in defence.
The Maroons know they can do it because they have done it previously.
Ofahengaue is a player who is made for Origin. He is probably more suited to that arena than he is for club football, a bit like Nate Myles was. He is a workhorse, doesn’t make mistakes and can find his front. He will rumble into the fray all night because he has a big motor.
Welch is a big body, has a great attitude and can power through the line and get a quick play-the-ball. He adds another dynamic for Queensland. Mentally he comes across as a strong character and he is part of a winning culture at Melbourne.
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 3 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
For mine, Papalii is the key for Queensland. He really needs to step up a level in this game because he is the most experienced middle forward in the Maroons side at Origin.
He is a great player and he’s done a fantastic job for Canberra this year. He just needs to be the bull in the paddock who gets stung by the bee. I want to see him line up to be the first one to get the ball and really take it to NSW early.
In Origin I it was NSW prop David Klemmer who asserted himself early. Papalii needs to be that man on Wednesday night.
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Josh McGuire is the other guy in the middle who can make a difference with one of his best games. You know what you are going to get with McGuire. He has modelled his game on that great Maroons stalwart Andrew Gee and if he can play like my old Broncos teammate in the decider then Queensland will be well served.
I really like the changes Walters has made to the backs, particularly playing Cameron Munster at fullback.
Munster has always wanted to play there and will relish this challenge. He will have the ball in his hands more often and that will make him more dangerous than ever. He will pop up on both sides of the field and probe away with his footwork and speed. He is not restricted to one side of the field and you can be sure he will break tackles and make incisions.
There is a lot to like about Corey Norman at five-eighth. He has been in form for the Dragons and he will relish the combination with hooker Ben Hunt. Norman oozes confidence and I am sure he will carry that swagger when he gets his chance for Queensland.
It is important to remember that each Origin game is its own unique entity. We’ve seen it so often in the past where the result of the previous game has no bearing on the next.
Pundits are saying the Blues have the momentum but it doesn’t work that way in Origin footy. What happened in Perth will have no bearing whatsoever in how the decider unfolds.
This is a big moment for Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans. He has been a bit quiet since coming back from his ankle injury. At his best, DCE is running the football and creating opportunities. The other thing he does well is back up through the middle of the park, like he did in Origin III last year where he scored a great try by just being in support.
I picked Cherry-Evans as man of the match in the first two games.
Hopefully he can achieve that at ANZ Stadium.
I am tipping Queensland to win this game in golden point with Norman to kick the winning field goal on his Origin debut. He’s done it a couple of times for the Dragons this year. What a story that would be.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.