1 Tony Williams is the most important player in State of Origin III. He’s not the biggest name involved, or a key-position player, and he certainly won’t play the most minutes – in fact, he may not even total half of the 80 – but, assuming most other players perform close to their reputations and the game is as tight a contest as many people think it will be, he is more capable than anyone of producing a blockbusting play to win it for NSW. The benches are going to be critical in this game, and the Blues, particularly with Williams on theirs, have a quartet with more potential to break open the game than the Queensland four. Williams was very rusty when he came straight back from a long suspension to play in Origin I and it showed with his timing, which was a bit out. But in only 23 minutes on the field he still came up with more tackle breaks, 10, than any other player all game. Williams missed Origin II through injury, but has a full game with Manly behind him going into the series decider. The stage is set for him to go out there and be at his wrecking ball best.
There are increasing suggestions that if Ricky Stuart picked up a club coaching job next year, he may be able to continue as NSW coach as well. Surely, this is madness. The thought is that Stuart has established great structures and assembled quality staff, so he could have less to do with the extended lead-up to the Origin series while he concentrated on his club side, and just parachute into the preparations for the big games. But we all saw how drained Stuart was after the Blues won Origin II. The reason NSW, like Queensland before them, moved away from the idea of club coaches doubling up with Origin is because coaching Origin is a massive task that goes way beyond the period of almost eight weeks from when the teams are named for game one to when game three is played. Now is the time to remember that – not forget it.
Origin history isn’t exactly littered with examples of teams winning series-deciding third games on opposition turf, but it has happened five times. Queensland have done it three times – at the SCG in 1982, the now-called Allianz Stadium in ’98, and ANZ Stadium in 2008. NSW did it at Suncorp Stadium in ’94, and again there in ’05, when Stuart was Blues coach the first time around. Stuart will be having his third shot at trying to pull off the trick at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday, having been unsuccessful in his second try there last year. Only the biggest names in Origin have managed the feat as coaches – Arthur Beetson (’82), Phil Gould (’94), Wayne Bennett (’98), Stuart and Mal Meninga (’08).
Queensland should not bother chasing after Sam Kasiano when they have Josh McGuire. The 22-year-old Brisbane prop should be the obvious replacement for the retiring Petero Civoniceva in the Maroons’ side next year. McGuire’s performance in a beaten Broncos team against Cronulla was tremendous. The Sharks were brutal in the way they hammered a Brisbane team that was missing six forwards to Origin and had two others out injured, but McGuire stood tall against the onslaught to lead the Broncos back into the game and at least make it a contest. McGuire played the 80 minutes and made 16 runs, for 146 metres, and 37 tackles. It’s the mark of a player, how much you’re prepared to keep putting in when your team is losing and McGuire had shown his heart previously, making 60 tackles in 66 minutes when the Broncos went down to North Queensland last month. He has a heap of Origin ahead of him.
So have Queensland made a mistake in dumping Dave Taylor for Origin III or not? On the face of it, no. Taylor had not one, but two chances to get his act together in this year’s series and didn’t do it. The Maroons were not obliged to pick him for game three just on the chance that he might come good. Taylor was on fire for South Sydney against Penrith yesterday, but that is a far cry from Origin. It’s no different to NSW dropping winger Akuila Uate for the decider. He had two chances as well this series.
Kevin Naiqama produced the sort of statistics from fullback for Newcastle in their win against Parramatta that the Knights thought they would be getting more often from Darius Boyd this season. Naiqama racked up 247 metres from 16 runs, including a runaway try, but will still have to make way for the return of Boyd from the Queensland side after Origin III. While Newcastle have done well to win two in a row after plunging into wooden spoon territory, their victims were an out-of-sorts Wests Tigers and last-placed Parramatta. We’ll get a much better idea of exactly where they’re at when they hit the road against Souths on Sunday.
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