It all hangs in the balance at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night as the Blues and Maroons all head to Origin III.
History is on Queensland’s side, but with Cameron Munster out, things got a little tougher for first-year head coach Billy Slater.
The Blues have won just two decisive Suncorp games in their history and will be looking to make it three, surrounded by a sea of red.
Watch all the action ahead of the Origin Series decider below!
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ORIGIN DECIDER ULTIMATE GUIDE AND START TIME
THE FORGOTTEN BEGINNER OF THE MARONS
With the mystery surrounding the pairing of the Queensland halves at the forefront of rugby league minds, one Maroons debutant has flown under the radar – Tom Gilbert.
The Cowboys enforcer was drafted into the side after Felise Kaufusi was ruled out, fitting in on the bench, with young gun Jeremiah Nanai moving into the back row.
Gilbert was one of North Queensland’s best in 2022 and as such made his debut for the Maroons in a huge breakout series.
Queensland legend and Maroons assistant Cameron Smith thinks Wayne Bennett has a ‘good buy’ in Gilbert after the 21-year-old signed a three-year contract with the new franchise.
“He was super impressive,” Smith said. “He’s been on the radar for 12 months now, and just seeing what he’s produced for the Cowboys this year is super impressive.
“I think the Dolphins have a good buy in Tommy, but I can’t wait to see what he brings to this football team tonight.
“When he gets the chance, he’s the type of player who’s going to go millions of miles an hour from the moment he steps onto that pitch until the moment he runs out of energy.
“I like to think he’s going to put a lot of pressure on the Blues.”
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FIRST RESPONSE FROM SAIFITI
Knights enforcer Jacob Saifiti is set to make his New South Wales debut in tonight’s series decider – and the text exchange that confirmed his place on Origin has been revealed.
After returning to Newcastle to begin preparing for the Knights’ Round 17 clash, Saifiti’s phone rang as he read a text from a member of Blues staff.
“Jordan McLean did his job in training. He’s out, you’re in,” read the text according to the Daily Telegraph.
While this moment was a dream come true, Saifiti’s first point of call was to check on his teammate.
“How bad is that? Saifiti replied
Later, the Knights enforcer sent a four-word message confirming to Brad Fittler that he was ready for one of rugby league’s fiercest encounters, taking on the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium.
“Okay. I’m ready, brutha,” Saifiti wrote.
Saifiti’s selection sparked huge debate, with Reagan Campbell-Gillard and David Klemmer seen by most as the most obvious options.
SLATER’S SURPRISE SWITCH
Maroons legend Wally Lewis believes Billy Slater is set to make a late half-time change after Cameron Munster was ruled out due to Covid-19.
The rookie coach named young Cowboys gun Tom Dearden in the No. 6 jersey, but did not confirm whether the 21-year-old would start in the series decider.
Dearden is firming up as a man likely to take the pitch for kick-off alongside Daly Cherry-Evans, but Slater could slot Ben Hunt into the halves and Harry Grant into the dummy half an hour before kick-off sending.
“It’s very hard to work with, I think Billy might even get closer to the game a bit quicker, find something that New South Wales weren’t expecting,” Lewis told WWOS.
“That’s the key to State of Origin, delivering something your opponents don’t expect.
“It will definitely be won up front, the big boys, and that’s where New South Wales seem to have a lot more size.”
Although losing Munster and winger Murray Taulagi is a blow, Lewis hopes the Suncorp Stadium crown can inspire the Maroons to deliver.
“It certainly hasn’t been that good in the build-up, we’ve lost a few of our key players, but that’s happened before for Queensland and they never used that as an excuse,” Lewis said. .
“If they are good enough that night they will win the game, there will be 52,500 fans here, hopefully Queensland will be at their best tonight.”
‘ANSWER THE CALL’
Maroons superstars Kalyn Ponga and Daly Cherry-Evans have been told to ‘answer the call’ and stand up when Queensland needs them most in the Origin Series decider tonight.
Following Cameron Munster’s omission due to Covid-19, Brad Fittler’s NSW men are heavy favorites to claim the 2022 series victory, despite losing the opener.
Munster was the best player on the court in the series opener and now Cherry-Evans and Ponga must carve their names into Origin folklore if Queensland are to pull off an upset.
“The great folks in Origin, they answered when the call came, Wally Lewis had this innate sense of recognizing when something was needed and did it,” Paul Kent said on NRL360.
“We saw Cameron Smith three years ago say he didn’t run enough in Game 1, so he’s going to run more in Game 2.
“He just owned the game, warned NSW and did it when Queensland needed it.
“It’s the two guys (Cherry-Evans and Ponga) that Queensland, without Munster there, that Queensland needs.
“We’ve seen some great Ponga games but usually they pop up when you least expect it, all of a sudden he’s going to come out and you think wow what a game he’s got.
“I don’t think Cherry-Evans had that kind of impact in Origin.
“Both are warned tomorrow night that this is the game Queensland need them in.”
The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Crawley also pointed to Cherry-Evans’ running game as a potential factor going into the series decider.
In the first two clashes, the Sea Eagles playmaker had dynamic strength on the outside and often handed the ball to Munster in space.
Now Cherry-Evans will have to be the man to take the line on.
“It’s an opportunity for Cherry-Evans…to step in, if Munster is there and DCE gets through his hands and he’s got Munster outside of him, he’s likely to get through,” Crawley said.
“If Queensland are to win, they need other champions to rise up and win the game.”
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