The New South Wales Blues will be out to complete their first State of Origin sweep since 2000 in Game 3 against the Queensland Maroons. The challenge has been made more difficult by the switch of venues to the Gold Coast, but Brad Fittler’s men have won the first two games by a combined score of 76 points to six and will have a head full of steam. The Blues will have to overcome a major hurdle ahead of the dead rubber though, with both Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai ruled out due to injuries. Cleary sustained his in Game 2 and bravely saw out the game, while Luai hurt his knee during a Penrith game.
It means an all-new half pairing of Jack Wighton and Mitchell Moses come into the side. Wighton has been the bench utility during the first two games but has had little role to play, while Moses has been part of a high-performing Eels side. Brad Fittler must be concerned though, given Wighton’s Raiders sit down at the bottom of the table, and Moses’ Eels have lost three out of five games against fellow teams in the top six.
The bottom line is it wouldn’t matter which combination the Blues selected, matching the output of Cleary and Luai is near-on impossible. Their club output has taken the Panthers to the top of the table, with a combined nine tries and 15 try assists.Origin has seen them orchestrate an attacking game plan that has ripped Queensland in half for 76 points across two games. They have been outplayed by their teammates, so the stats sheet won’t show it, but for a team to be that good in attack, the halves have been outstanding. Cleary’s kicking game can be pointed to as a determining factor though with 339 metres in the opener and 484 in a slightly less free-flowing Game 2.
`But the Blues give up their club combination which has worked so well, with Moses and Wighton only combining for five tries and 16 try assists despite playing more games than the Penrith duo. They’re also the leaders at their respective clubs, whereas Cleary and Luai split duties. The numbers mount a worrying case for the Blues’ attack. Of course, there are other ways New South Wales score points. The back five have been simply phenomenal in the first two games, racking up over 900 metres between them on each occasion.
They have also added 11 of the 12 tries, with the centre pairing of Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic combining for seven tries, four line breaks, two line-break assists, three try assists, 27 tackle busts and an offload across the first two games. They have run rings around the Maroons and, with the forward pack still physically better across the board, they should be placed into the position to do that again.
The forwards do lose Daniel Saifiti, which means the unbelievable impact of Payne Haas is likely to move into the starting team, but with the big-minutes experience of Dale Finucane added to the bench, it’s hard to suggest the Blues will lose much. Finucane averages 120 metres per game and tackles at almost 96 per cent efficiency, which will only add to the Blues middle third starch. They have been simply unbelievable in defence this series, and with the same combinations across the park, that should continue.
Haas starting may only serve to blow the game out quicker, with the Broncos’ prop putting up almost 120 metres per game at well over ten per run, to go with 55 tackles – all without a miss. Should the Blues manage to overcome the loss of Luai and Cleary, this will be a series sweep. It’s easy to mount the case that they will be able to.