State of Origin: Can Queensland ensure New South Wales' hold on the shield is short-lived?

There are very few bi-partisan State of Origin fans, but a decider at Lang Park is really a dream come true as far as the Origin arena is concerned.

The country's best players lining up at the country's best rectangular football ground in a winner-take-all clash is what top-flight rugby league is all about.

The lead up to Game III has been relatively free of the often tiresome verbal back and forth that usually accompanies these interstate clashes as both teams appear to be in business mode.

The Maroons had some injury-forced decisions to make at the selection table, while the Blues' biggest personnel call is yet to be made.

Grandstand takes a look at four of the key points that may decide tonight's victor.

Picking Josh Papalii

The Maroons blinked when they picked Josh Papalii as Josh McGuire's replacement.

The start of McGuire's representative career was not so spectacular that his absence will be damaging to the team, but the inclusion of monster Rooster Dylan Napa could have changed the Queensland side immeasurably.

The Maroons now have two specialist props, one of whom has a couple of bulging discs in his neck - Matt Scott - where the Blues have three - Aaron Woods, Jason Tamou and David Klemmer - plus Paul Gallen.


It was clear Papalii was going to get picked when coach Mal Meninga said on the eve of the team's naming, he and the selectors were leaning towards experience over the form of Napa or Knights prop Korbin Sims.

Papalii's much-needed "experience" amounts to three games of decent Origin football, but even forgetting that, do not debutants have to debut some time?

It is understandable to hold off blooding a rookie playmaker or full-back in the cauldron of a decider, but a fire-and-brimstone prop like Napa? Surely the 22-year-old would be better off running out for the first time in front of a raucous Queensland crowd willing him to victory whether it is the series opener or a decider.

A lot has been said about Papalii being some sort of 'hitman' and a kryptonite of sorts for Gallen and Klemmer. This argument is garbage.

Take a look at Napa introducing himself to Gallen in 2013 and try to say he is not a physically devastating force equal to, or more likely greater than, Papalii.

Simply put, the Maroons have not done anything to arrest the size disadvantage that has put them on the back foot regularly throughout the series.

And with Klemmer set for a bigger share of the minutes after two strong games, expect the Blues monstrous pack to come home to roost against the Maroons' bunch of back rowers.

Robbie Farah's fitness

Make no mistake, if Robbie Farah plays, the Queenslanders will have no hesitation in pushing, pulling, prodding or pounding the painkilling chemicals out of that bandaged mitt.


Farah's right hand has been the focus for two weeks, with Michael Ennis, Ryan Hinchcliffe and Josh Reynolds hanging around Coffs Harbour trying to prove themselves.

The Wests Tigers rake has been one of the mainstays of the Blues since reclaiming his number nine jersey from Ennis in 2011.

Farah's dummy-half prowess is especially important for shield holders as Mitchell Pearce and Trent Hodkinson are not superstars, despite playing brilliantly for the first 78 minutes of the series opener and backing it up with solid efforts in Game II.

On the other side of the fence, the Maroons have the benefit of having Cameron Smith in the nine, but rarely need the pinpoint accuracy he provides with Dally M medallists Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston in the halves.

Laurie Daley and the rest of the New South Wales team have maintained all week the line that Farah is a chance for Game III, but giving a hooker until an hour before kick-off in an Origin decider to prove his fitness seems unwise and not the sort of move the Blues coaching staff would pull.

If Farah cannot get up for the decider, the Blues will miss his kicking game mightily, as Ennis is just capable with the boot out of dummy half.

Ennis has been training in the position as he serves his one-game 'ban' and, with seven Origin caps to his name, is as good a replacement as a team could hope for.

But, if Farah plays he will be below his best and if Ennis plays, the team will be below its best. The hooker spot is so vitally important for a team without excellent halves and a downgrade in that position may be too much to overcome for the holders.

Cooper Cronk's comeback

Cooper Cronk is back in maroon - something the state of Queensland will be thrilled to see.

Ahead of Game II, Grandstand predicted Cronk's absence would be too much to overcome for the Maroons as they looked to seal a series win.

But the rabble that became of the team without its organisational half-back, who has an 11-4 win-loss record at Origin level, was a surprise even to those who knew how important he was to the cause.


Daly Cherry-Evans's disappearing act in Melbourne forced the selectors to axe the NRL's $10 million man as Cronk prepared to make his return from a knee injury.

And that leads us to the big question for Cronk: Just how fit is he?

The Storm playmaker should be well rested as he has not played since he came off the field against Penrith in early June, but he should not be lacking match fitness.

Cronk is one of the game's most committed trainers and has never come back from an injury looking out of shape or underdone.

In fact, Meninga was so confident in his star half's recovery he declared unequivocally 10 days ago that Cronk would play Game III.

Assuming Cronk is truly 100 per cent fit, his influence on this team will be just as clear as it was in Game III last year.

His return also allows the dangerous Johnathan Thurston to play the instinctive style to which he is best suited, leaving the bulk of the organisation to Cronk and Cameron Smith.

That proved to be the deciding factor in Game I and will go a long way towards securing victory for the hosts tonight.

Greg Inglis's impact

Greg Inglis's drop in form at Origin level was unmissable and the criticism reached fever pitch after Game I.

Unsurprisingly though, Inglis bounced back with a brilliant Game II as he was finally given more freedom to roam by the Maroons coaching staff.

That freedom will be even greater tonight as he is unleashed in his preferred number-one jersey, giving the Maroons more go-forward from the back.

With his position now more certain, some of the defensive confusion and mismatches that helped Michael Jennings run rampant in Game II have been eliminated (although Jennings's speed and strength may still prove too much for Justin Hodges in his farewell match).

Billy Slater is still the best full-back in the game and Queensland will miss his playmaking ability in attack and positional brilliance in defence, but the Blues' kick-chase has regularly monstered him in recent years.

As Inglis has proven time and time again, he is simply too big, strong and fast to physically dominate and, while the Blues will do their best to mute his impact by kicking to the wings and ensuring they chase in a straight line, Inglis will have his moments and start Queensland's sets off on the front foot.

Full-back is his best position and even the Blues admitted seeing him in the number one was "scary" so expect another big game from Inglis on what is arguably the game's biggest stage.

The verdict

The last time a decider was played at Lang Park it resulted in a thrilling 21-20 win for the Maroons in one of the best games in Origin history.

It is a cop-out to predict a close game at Origin level, but it is impossible to look at these two teams - the overwhelming power and athleticism of the reigning champions versus the skill and experience of the once-great Queensland dynasty - and find a blowout.

Yes, the Blues finally regained the shield last year, but their hunger to hang on to the title and avoid being forever tagged as the '#oneinarow' team will be more than sufficient to keep them fired up.

The Maroons, on the other hand, are clearly desperate to take back the title they held for eight years and shake their own 'too old' tag.

Their advanced years also translates to experience and the composure of the Cronk-Smith-Thurston spine proved the biggest difference in winning Game I.