Following the most lopsided opening two games of an Origin series in history, Queensland will get yet another chance on home soil to avoid a sweep. The men from north of the Tweed welcome back a big-name star, but will it be enough? With Sydney’s COVID outbreak and lockdown worsening, Game 3 was uprooted to the Gold Coast. The decision means all three games in this year’s series will be played in the sunshine state.
The Maroons welcome Kalyn Ponga back into their side attempting to avoid a sweep, which hasn’t been completed by the Blues since 2000. The Newcastle fullback, who missed the first two games with injury, will undoubtedly bolster Queensland’s attack. Paul Green’s side has scored just six points combined across the first two games. Ponga brings with him two try assists and two line breaks in his three Origin games so far, but is also excellent in the form at club level. He has scored six tries in as many games for the struggling Knights, while also laying on six assists.
Maybe even more importantly though, Ponga averages over 150 metres per game, which will give the Maroons a platform they simply haven’t had in the opening two games. The back five have been battered by the Blues. In Game 1, Queensland’s back five had just 467 metres compared to the Blues’ 928, while Game 2 had 590 up against 923. Those stats alone mean the Maroons’ pack have never had the opportunity to get into the contest, and the results on the scoreboard are telling, a combined 76 points to six thus far.
Queensland, searching for speed, have also elected to bring youngster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow into the side at the centre. Given Kurt Capewell missed six tackles in Game 2 playing out of position, it looks a good move on the surface. The 19-year-old has only missed nine tackles in nine games this year and is a more natural centre, so he should provide the Maroons with a far more efficient defence against Tom Trbojevic and the Blues’ punishing attack on that side of the park.
While they have been the major issues for the Maroons in the first two games, those changes alone won’t win them the dead rubber. The Queenslanders will desperately need their halves, Cameron Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans, to stand up. At club level, the pair have a combined eight tries and 16 try assists, to go with 174 runs and 568 kick metres per game. Those numbers should be creating a dynamic duo in the spine for the Maroons – but they’ve been anything but that in the first two contests.
It goes without saying Queensland have struggled enormously on the edge in the first two games. Of New South Wales’ 12 tries, 11 have been scored by players named in the centres or on the wing. It’s not to say they haven’t gone through them in all areas of the park, but the Maroons have had their challenge made that much harder by David Fifita’s suspension and Jai Arrow’s COVID breach. Capewell has been shifted to the second row but, with only middle forwards in their reserves, it means Thomas Flegler and Francis Molo will take bench spots, and their bench will feature no players capable of playing time in the second row.
That is a recipe for disaster, particularly given how potent Tariq Sims and Cameron Murray were during the second game as the Blues shut the Maroons out to zero. Ponga will help the Maroons, but it’s extremely difficult to see them turning around and getting a result, even with Game 3 on the Gold Coast.
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