AFTER being involved in the coverage of every State of Origin series since 1980, or 1983 when it went to a best-of-three concept, you often get a “gut feeling” about who will win.
My gut feeling about tonight’s game is that New South Wales will play better than a lot of experts and critics think.
But will that be good enough to stop this champion Queensland side from rolling on to its 10th series win in the past 11 years?
No matter how I look at the two teams, whatever stats and slants I put on results and player match-ups, it keeps coming with a Queensland win, and an easy win, which goes against my gut.
It comes from just looking at the key positions and the players who make up the spine, fullback, halves and hooker, four players who will all have a major influence on the game if their respective forward packs win the battle up front.
Let’s look at the opposing fullbacks.
QUEENSLAND: Darius Boyd has played 24 Origins, scored 16 tries and played 18 games for Australia. His talk and organisational skills were crucial in Queensland’s 6-4 win in Sydney. Rating 9
NSW: Matt Moylan made his debut in Sydney and the nerves got him a few times but when he got a little space he looked very dangerous. How will he handle 52,000 rabid maroon fans? Rating 8
Now the halves:
QUEENSLAND: Cooper Cronk (rating 8.5) and Johnathan Thurston (9) have been a fixture in Queensland’s team during their record eight-series streak. They complement each other perfectly and organise everything the maroons do in attack.
NSW: Adam Reynolds (7.5) and James Maloney (8). Another new 6-7 partnership the Blues are working on. There was plenty to like about their combination in game one. With a huge pack to work off they should be able to create opportunities and headaches for Queensland’s back three with their kicking games.
Finally the battle of the hookers:
QUEENSLAND: There is probably not a more composed player under intense pressure in the game than Cameron Smith. This guy has ice in his veins and the tighter the battle to better he plays. This will be his 38th Origin and he has a chance to clinch the series. Rating 9.
NSW: Robbie Farah is one of the Blues’ most experienced campaigners and some of the things he did in the Sydney game suggest he will be primed for a man-of-the-match-style performance if his big boys can dominate. Rating 8.
Based on ratings of those four positions, Queensland hold a distinct edge in games played, games won and big-game winners.
What swings me Queensland’s way the most is key match-ups like NSW utility Dylan Walker, who has nine minutes of Origin experience, up against Queensland great Greg Inglis, who while not at his best in Sydney with limited opportunities, does boast 17 tries from his 27 Origins.
Walker is just 21 and loaded with talent but asking him to give Inglis 10kg and so much Origin experience is a massive gamble by coach Laurie Daley.
Still NSW plans to win the battle up front as it did in game two of last year’s series in Melbourne when the series was also on line.
If it has an edge it’s the impressive size and power through players such as James Tamou, Aaron Woods, skipper Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita, who really put it to Queensland in Sydney.
If the Blues are to keep the series alive, it will be through their forwards and their bench players, including rookies Tyson Frizzell and the exciting young Jack Bird.
Queensland’s champion pack aren’t getting any younger and while nobody would dare question their courage or character, the bigger NSW forwards with their younger legs could finish strongly.