Queensland sits just two days and 80 minutes, possibly slightly more from either winning its 7th straight State of Origin series or that same amount of time from at least briefly ending an era of dominance for the team. For a side that have been inconsistent whilst showing the occasional glimpse of brilliance that has allowed them to dominate over 6 years they are somewhat lucky to be challenging again for another series win at what is generally considered the toughest level of the game.
There’s been some juggling of the team after the injury Billy Slater suffered ruled him out of the series decider to be held on Wednesday. The best fullback in the world will be replaced in the number 1 jersey by a player best known for playing in the centres or on the wing at club and representative level, former Melbourne Storm teammate Greg Inglis.
But the now South Sydney Rabbitohs star Inglis is not unfamiliar with the position he will inherit from Billy Slater. Early this year Inglis was started in the fullback position while playing for his club which saw the team enjoy a strong win. Inglis has made the position at the club his own since then and will play in that position on Wednesday for the first time at a representative level.
Greg Inglis taking the number 1 jersey means that Matt Bowen from the North Queensland Cowboys, a former Queensland Origin player and again in form alternative to Billy Slater and his counterpart from the Canterbury Bulldogs, Ben Barba both miss out on an Origin call-up at the hands of the tall, broad and fast Inglis.
Bot can feel at least a little hard done by in a way as they’ve both certainly done enough to crack into the Queensland side this season for Origin at least as utilities, particularly in the case of Canterbury’s Barba who has been a revelation for the team, but also Bowen, especially in recent weeks showing point-scoring prowess.
But Mal (Meninga) has gone for team experience and relative youth in the form of Greg Inglis as opposed to the older and experienced club and representative player Matt Bowen and the relatively inexperienced Ben Barba who is early on in his rugby league career and will surely be a feature of both the Queensland and Australian teams in the future.
In game 1 the New South Wales team had all the pace and running and looked to have bamboozled the Maroons with their youthful exuberance and breakaway runs, but Queensland capitalised on mistakes and field position when it counted and referee decisions went their way.
The first game also saw Billy Slater struggle under the high ball and make mistakes in play which meant he had a quiet game and could easily have cost the team the game had other players been a bit more rusty.
Game two in Sydney saw a Queensland team with better legs but an inability to overpower a resurgent Blues team who were strong in defense where it counted and were able to capitalise on field position like the Queensland team did in the first match down in Melbourne.
On Wednesday night pace and consistency will be the key for the Queensland team as will be responding better to the high ball than has been the case other than when Brent Tate received the ball on behalf of the Queensland team, doing so in a brilliant fashion.
The key big men of the Queensland team will also need to put in a big defensive effort needing to tackle to prevent younger legs running away with the ball at immense pace.
As usual too it will be up to the expert Johnathon Thurston to direct the game from the halves along with playing partner Cooper Cronk who has slotted into the team well after the departure of Darren Lockyer last year.
This year it’s a lot harder to pick the side that will triumph, NSW have been inspired, but Queensland will still want to prove dearly that they can win without the legend that is Darren Lockyer. Both sides have the ability to win but it will be a close encounter of the third State of Origin kind.