Special Report by Matt Cleary
JUST as the concept of a ‘friendly’ does not exist in Australian sport so too are there no ‘dead rubbers’ in a State of Origin rugby league series.
For any player the idea is anathema. Whether one-up, two-down, all square, they play for their State, their people, the jumper and all who’ve worn it. There is nothing dead about an Origin game.
As for friendly? Forget it. They’re anything but friendly. And whatever the status of the series, players tear out for their tribes, one hundred per cent committed.
And when at home, and down 2-0, the desire ratchets up again.
The current crop of NSW Blues has the added incentive of avoiding a clean sweep and putting a dampener on Queensland’s post-series celebrations.
For Queensland, a sweep would be sweet indeed. Billy Slater‘s team could be just the seventh Origin side to sweep a series in 42 outings.
A Queensland win will mean Slater becomes just the fourth Origin coach after Wayne Pearce, Mal Meninga and Paul Vautin to play in and coach a clean sweep.
Yet NSW will be arguably more motivated.
Nobody within the Blues setup – players, coaches, fans, anyone – wants to go down three-nil in a series.
And running out in front of 80,000 people will be a huge motivator for the home team.
Yet, as in any Origin, pressure’s on.
With three series wins in six outings, NSW coach Brad Fittler may need a big win to keep his job after making seven changes to the side that was flogged 32-6 in game two in Brisbane.
One of the new players is Parramatta Eels fullback Clint Gutherson while the consistently excellent Penrith Panthers custodian Dylan Edwards would not have been far away from a call-up.
Both men excel in James Tedesco’s fullback position. As do injured stars Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic.
Tedesco is a champion, however, and will have a point to prove Wednesday night.
Helping him is the Blues’ formidable record at home.
In 30 Origin games at Accor Stadium, NSW has won 19, lost 10 and drawn one.
Of the first 11 games played at Accor Stadium, NSW won 10 including the famous 56-16 game in 2000 when Bryan Fletcher’s post-try ‘hand grenade’ celebrations had Queenslanders seething.
The drawn game was in 2002 when Gorden Tallis ripped off a famous ‘rag-doll’ tackle on Brett Hodgson and 35-year-old Allan Langer returned from England to help square the series and thus retain the State of Origin shield for Queensland. Langer was also named man-of-the-match.
Even during Queensland’s decade of dominance in which they trotted out several of the greatest players of all time and won 10 series in 11 years, NSW still won six games at Accor Stadium to Queensland’s nine. The average margin of victory for either team was 4.8 points.
On Wednesday night the Blues will take their first steps towards the ground via a tunnel adorned with images of past Blues greats.
They’ll then emerge onto the field to a wall of noise, much of it coming from the 10,000-strong ‘Blatchy’s Blues’ supporters group who’ll nearly fill the the northern end.
Fans will be entertained pre-match by Accor Stadium’s light show which will showcase New Zealand super-group SIX60 who will play a selection of mega-hits including the triple-platinum selling single ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots’.
Ampol State of Origin Game 3 will be the first of a trifecta of massive sporting events for Greater Sydney with the Wallabies taking on Argentina at CommBank Stadium on Saturday 15 July before the eyes of world football turn to Accor Stadium when Australia Matildas play Republic of Ireland in the Matildas’ opening game of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 on Thursday 20 July.
5:30pm: Gates Open
6:00pm: Kick Off: RISE Academy NSW Blue v NSW Navy
7:30pm: Pre-match Entertainment Commences.
8:05pm: Kick Off: Ampol State of Origin Game III – Westpac Blues versus Something Maroons.