NSW have not won the shield since 2005 and have constantly been second best to a Queensland outfit inspired by the mercurial Darren Lockyer. This series is the first since 1997 that Lockyer hasn’t taken part but such is the strength of the Queensland side that replacing such a sporting statesman has been such a smooth transition. Jonathan Thurston has taken over the mantle of the stand off role, and such is his experience, he is the only player to have played in all 18 games of this incredible six year winning streak.
This year’s first game took place in neutral territory in Melbourne, but the result was all too familiar with Queensland winning by 8. That doesn’t tell the entire story though, and if the blue’s execution had been a little sharper, they could well have snatched a victory in Victoria.
At home, in front of 84 thousand fans they will be tough to beat and they have been slowly clawing their way back into this competition. They will want to go to Brisbane next month with the series tied, and would love to end such an appalling sequence of results at the home of Queensland rugby, Suncorp Stadium.
Before they can even contemplate that scenario though, the second game under the lights at a packed ANZ stadium will hold the Australian sporting public’s imagination in the hope that like many of the second games in previous series’, defences loosen up a little, and the exciting backs from both sides are allowed to express themselves.
NSW have been in a transitional phase for a while now, hence the poor run of recent results, but they seem to be settling into a pattern which suits them, and more importantly have a more settled team with some exceptional youngsters coming through. What could be seen as one of the major turnarounds from a New South Wales perspective is the successful rehabilitation back into the team of former bad boys Greg Bird and Todd Carney.
Both have had their fair share of bad publicity, and both were refused UK visa’s to play in super league because of indiscressions in Australia. This has not stopped them returning to the NRL with new clubs and a new mentality and getting back to what they do best on the field.
Carney in particular is instrumental the resurgence of his club, Cronulla and in his Origin debut in Melbourne, despite first night nerves and some simple errors, looked the part to take the blues forward.
If New South Wales are to take the game to a decider, Carney has to reproduce his club form on the big stage, something he is more than capable of doing. His battle in the halves with Thurston will no doubt be pivotal, and having gotten the first game out of the way and the backing of his home fans will look to give Thurston a tougher time.
Given that the blues forwards won the arm wrestle in game one, it gives their supporters faith that the normally dominant Queensland pack is not what it once was and that this leaner, hungrier blues six can give their halves a platform to perform from.
In the build up to this game there has been some of the usual chest beating and a war of words which will add, if it is needed an extra edge to this already ferocious encounter.
This game though, for the first time in a long while is too close to call and the intensity and shear sporting theatre will be unrivalled. Expect fireworks, expect hits of a magnitude the human body should not have to go through and expect to see one of the closest, tightest Origin matches with star performers on both teams looking to put one over on their club colleagues.
image: © seljes