For the neutral observer, it’s captivating. For the Blues fans stuck south of the border, it’s nerve racking. For the Queenslanders with a golden ticket to the sold-out event, it’s exhilarating.
That’s right, folks. We’re tied one apiece with a decider on our hands.
Not many pundits – both amateur or professional – gave Bennett’s babies a snowflakes chance in Hades of keeping the series alive into a third week, but with everything to play for, the cane toads are back home at the swamp before their legion of XXXX imbibing disciples.
However, they have hopped back across the Tweed River somewhat worse for wear.
After steadying the tempo and winning the first round on points in Adelaide, the Maroons were knocked to the canvas by the pugilist from the blue corner in Sydney last week.
With the cockroaches forced to enter the land of the Mortein can in search of victory, the questions remain – will the tinned pesticides of their noisy northern neighbours be enough or will recent history repeat itself, with only an atomic bomb sufficient for eradication?
Over the past three weeks, I have raised a myriad of queries ahead of these state versus state clashes. Although many have be answered across the annual skirmishes first pair of rounds, the belt – or in this case shield – is still yet to be awarded.
So, with this in mind, here are the final set of questions facing both combatants as the fight inches closer to midnight.
What role will Lang Park play in deciding a result?
If the common idiom is true, then yes, home is where the heart is.
So, after their one-way 34-10 loss last week, the Queenslanders will doubtlessly be desperate to bust out the rib separators and transplant their ventricled tickers back into the centre of their chest.
Although we have come to the consensus that league has never been played on paper, or with a calculator instead of a Steeden, the numbers are actually in the Maroons’ favour ahead of tonight’s tiebreaker.
Of the 20 Origin deciders in the past, New South Wales have only won five. Although the Blues did manage to topple their rivals 26-20 just last season, the previous seven saw future immortals hoist the shield clad in dark red jerseys.
The venue for tonight’s stoush has also proven a happy hunting ground for the northerners.
Lang Park – or Suncorp Stadium for those that earn a paycheck in the banking or advertising sectors - has hosted a total of 56 State of Origin games. Of these, the home team has won 36, the visitors just 19 and also a solitary draw.
The void between the two states continues to grow when the numbers are crunched further.
Of these more than half a century of clashes, the Blues have averaged just over two converted tries across 80 minutes (14.3), with the Maroons recording a much healthier 19.1 points per game.
In layman’s terms, since 1980, Queensland has not only won more than 64% of the Brisbane based battles, but they have done so on average by more than a converted try.
Even though the stadium on Castlemaine Street is sacred ground for every Maroons maniac, as evidenced by this morning’s clerical blessing, it will take athleticism rather than abacuses to keep the streak going.
Still, with a packed house of ‘refreshed’ locals at their back, the task should prove more enjoyable than seven days ago.
Maroon blessing! Penny Jones who is a priest from the Anglican parish of Auchenflower/Milton is walking around Lang Park blessing the stadium ahead of the third State of Origin. She says she’ll be a neutral spectator tonight. @BreakfastNews @abcbrisbane #stateoforigin pic.twitter.com/yn5vlfiXK2
— Michael Rennie (@mf_rennie) November 17, 2020
Who is the decider’s most pivotal inclusion?
Unlike many pundits, I have not highlighted the injection of the in-form Harry Grant. However, my focus will still be on a Maroons debutant.
After rising to prominence in the back half of the regular season following Latrell Mitchell’s hamstring injury, Souths back Corey Allan is a known quantity in the eyes of Wayne Bennett.
From Round 17 until the Rabbitoh’s exit in the preliminary final, Allan was a revelation at fullback for the Bunnies.
In his seven appearances in the No.1 jersey, the 22-year-old averaged 16.2 runs for 147.8 metres. The Brisbane boy achieved this with a total of six linebreaks, six linebreak assists and four tries.
— NRL (@NRL) October 17, 2020
Bennett’s hand has been forced into moving Allan to fullback following Valentine Holmes’ lacklustre performance at fullback last week, as well as Josh Addo-Carr’s brilliant game two on the wing.
With a total of just five tackles across his seven-game purple patch, defending Addo-Carr on the fringe may well be too tall an order for Allan on debut.
Allan is set to become the third Queensland fullback in three weeks, with the aforementioned Holmes and injured AJ Brimson proceeding him.
Which hooker has the need for speed?
With the introduction of the ‘six again’ rule, a hooker’s pace has never been more important.
With the former beach sprinting champion Damien Cook set to face off against the fleet of foot Harry Grant, expect top gear to be found from both nines early tonight.
In a season that saw him crowned Rookie of the Year, Grant will tonight make his debut in Maroon after darting for 152 runs for 1,235 metres for Wests.
What a moment 🔥
— NRL (@NRL) May 30, 2020
Although the 22-year-old managed three linebreaks and six linebreak assists in his breakout year, he will be directly opposed to the prototypical modern hooker in Cook.
The goateed 29-year-old managed a comparative total of 240 runs for 2,166 metres this season for Souths and has since backed it up with an average of 160 metres in a Blue jersey this year.
Damien Cook, you absolute superstar. 🌟
— NRL on Nine (@NRLonNine) July 10, 2019
Eagle eyed observers will have noticed Cook’s heavily strapped quad in New South Wales’ victory last week, but as someone that has grappled with UFC champion Robert Whittaker, don’t expect pain to phase him.
Whichever way your heart or your hip-pocket lies tonight, you can expect fireworks from this contest within a contest.
What will a decided series actually tell us?
You’ll have to bear with me a minute as I channel my inner Jean-Paul Sartre.
Although the French philosopher would have been useless across 80 minutes on the paddock, his brand of existentialist querying has a place when pondering the result of tonight’s series decider.
When the hooter goes and the ref blows time on the game and the series, the final questions will need to be asked – what did the series actually tell us? Who will the series say more about? The quality of the winner or the lack of for the loser?
Should the youthful Maroons win the series, will the entirety of our collective judgement be channeled toward praising them or will we in turn suggest that the heavily fancied Blues blew their chance of back to back shields?
Will this result be seen as the dawn of a new era for Queensland or simply a blip on the radar of the seemingly inevitable New South Welsh dominance?
Should the result be reversed, will our applause for the Blues be muted, as they simply went out and did what many of us expected them to do or will the requisite level of acclamation be afforded?
Personally, should New South Wales fail to win tonight, they will have wildly underachieved in my eyes.
We’ll all be willing and able to make our judgements after the contest has been run and won, I’m simply planting the seed before the inevitable tide of post-game commentary comes in.
Who would actually win in a fight between Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Payne Haas?
Exhale people, the brain strain is over. If you’re still with me, let’s look at a hypothetical that is far more important - who would win in a fight between these two beastly 20-year-olds?
Two NRL stars have been asked to put on the gloves 🥊https://t.co/sNT7MP76yd
— ZeroTackle.com (@zerotackle) November 17, 2020
With a 12-kilogram weight advantage, but measuring in a full two centimetres shorter with a vertical tape, I’m putting my money on Payne.
Whether or not you agree, should the pair ever take up George Rose’s offer and enter the square circle together, it would be one hell of a bout.
NSW 26 – 12
First Try Scorer – Josh Addo-Carr
Man of the Match – Damien Cook