Was the 2018 State of Origin series decided on May 15 – three weeks before game one – when Cameron Smith announced his immediate retirement from representative football?
On top of the departure of fellow Origin greats Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk after the final match of the 2017 series, Smith's exit proved the final straw for a Maroons side that had done so much for so long.
Blues players – and fans – will claim they would have won the series even if Smith had played, but what can't be disputed is that the job became a lot easier on May 16 than it was on May 14.
NSW have been deserved winners of each of the first two matches of the 2018 series – and look set to complete a clean sweep in front of the Maroons faithful at Suncorp Stadium.
As Queensland ring the changes in the hope of finding a plan for the future, a confident Blues team appear set for a golden run of their own.
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 3 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
- Nine Network
State of Origin III, Queensland v NSW, Wednesday, 8pm, Suncorp Stadium
Key match-up: Damien Cook v Andrew McCullough. Cook has clearly outpointed McCullough in each of the first two matches and the Blues have used that platform to control large parts of each game. Queensland's decision to move Ben Hunt back to the bench is likely to result in him being used at dummy half for parts of the match. If McCullough is unable to have a greater impact in the series finale, the Maroons may be looking for a new No.9 in 2019.
Billy Slater on his Origin legacy
For the Blues to win: It's simple – just keep doing what they did over the opening two matches. After years of over-complicating things, the low-key approach that Brad Fittler has adopted has worked a treat. If they are able to replicate the performances they turned on at the MCG and ANZ Stadium, a 3-0 sweep looms large.
For the Maroons to win: After more than a decade of relying on Smith, Thurston, Cronk, Inglis and Slater to turn the hard work of the forwards into victories, Slater is the only member of that quintet who will be wearing the Maroon jersey on Wednesday night. That leaves the returning Daly Cherry-Evans as the man who needs to make this team his own. It is a big ask of someone considered not good enough to play in the opening two matches, but if DCE stars the Maroons might just be able to squeak home.
Maroons Stat Attack: He may have been on the losing side but Queensland winger Valentine Holmes has produced some strong individual numbers this series, leading all players for points (14) and run metres (448), ranking equal first for line breaks (3) and ranking third for tackle breaks, dummy-half runs and support runs.
Blues Stat Attack: NSW scored a total of 26 points across three games in 2014, their only other winning series since 2005. They've easily passed that mark already after two games in 2018, with 40 points.
Maloney knows how tough 3-0 will be in Brisbane
And another thing: A NSW win would give the Blues a fourth clean sweep in Origin history after tasting success in 1986, 1996 and 2000. The 1986 and 1996 sweeps came with game three wins in Brisbane. The Maroons have been facing the prospect of a 3-0 series loss nine times but have won six of those dead rubbers. Queensland have won nine of the past 11 Origin matches at Suncorp Stadium.
NSW Blues: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Tom Trbojevic, 3 Latrell Mitchell, 4 James Roberts, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 James Maloney, 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 David Klemmer, 9 Damien Cook, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Boyd Cordner (c), 12 Tyson Frizell, 15 Jake Trbojevic. Interchange: 13 Jack de Belin, 14 Tariq Sims, 16 Angus Crichton, 17 Tyrone Peachey.
Queensland Maroons: 1 Billy Slater (c), 2 Valentine Holmes, 3 Dane Gagai, 4 Will Chambers, 5 Corey Oates, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Daly Cherry-Evans, 8 Jai Arrow, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Josh Papalii, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Felise Kaufusi, 13 Josh McGuire. Interchange: 14 Ben Hunt, 15 Jarrod Wallace, 16 Coen Hess, 17 Tim Glasby.
Origin at Suncorp, there's nothing like it! Game III tickets available here