Why I can’t see NSW winning SOO Game III

This article was first written for and published by The Roar.

In the lead up to the State of Origin decider, the call to action is always the same – most media outlets demand content about Origin and most rugby league fans want to read it.

We all know that Australians (particularly in New South Wales and Queensland) are obsessed with State of Origin so it makes sense to feature as much Origin content as possible.

This obsession is backed up by more than just relentless Origin chat in the lead up to each game.

In 2016, each Origin match featured in the top five ranked sporting programs with a combined audience of more than 7.2 million people. I expect the same sort of figures this year.

It’s quite incredible that three games played between two states manage to capture the attention of the public for almost 10 weeks each season (and that people are so interested that club football takes a back seat during this period).

But the truth is, I don’t want to write about State of Origin. I don’t even want to talk about Origin anymore. Why? Because the Blues’ performance in Game 2 broke me.

Watching the Blues lose that game in the final three minutes courtesy of a Dane Gagai try hurt me so much that I didn’t read any Origin coverage for a week and a half afterward. I didn’t even tune in to the team announcements last week, because I have given up.

I’ve convinced myself that the outcome is a foregone conclusion and as a result I’m not excited about this game at all. This is in stark contrast to three weeks ago, when I went into the game more excited than I had ever been for an Origin match.

The truth is, I cannot see New South Wales winning – particularly after what I saw in Game 2.

It’s so hard to pinpoint where exactly it went wrong for New South Wales this series.

The win in Game 1 was emphatic. There were articles written about the end of the Queensland dynasty and about how Cameron Smith’s best football was behind him.

Andrew Fifita caused chaos for the Maroons every single time he touched the ball. Jarryd Hayne returned to representative football as a hero. The names Paul Gallen and Robbie Farah were nothing but a distant memory.

Even with significant changes made to the Maroons squad for Game 2, with the inclusion of players like Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Valentine Holmes, Jarrod Wallace and Coen Hess, Blues fans still went into the game confident.

And for 40 minutes that confidence was rewarded.

(AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

The Maroons were scrambling just trying to weather the Blues attack. The Blues made 100 more metres than the Maroons in the first half. They had made three more line breaks, much fewer tackles and led the Maroons 16-6. The Maroons looked gassed.

Then the second half. I don’t know what happened, other than that it all went horribly wrong. Wade Graham and Hayne made several costly errors. The minute Tyson Frizell left the field, Thurston stopped being targeted (despite having just one working shoulder). Josh McGuire. Will Chambers. Dane Gagai. Dylan Napa. These men were as determined to win this game for Queensland as the Blues were to lose it.

And lose it they did. When Gagai scored that final try to equalise it had been a matter of not if, but when.

Thurston, despite being ruled out for Game 3, ended his Origin career with a fairytale, slotting the sideline conversion with a bung shoulder and a stadium full of blue-clad fans baying for his blood.

Boyd Cordner looked absolutely broken after the game. You could tell he had been crying before he fronted the media at the press conference.

The truth is, New South Wales bottled it. They squandered their opportunity and the chance to claim the series in Game 2 disappeared before a collective state’s eyes.

I’ve heard plenty of commentary over the last couple of weeks about the culture of losing and how difficult it is for a team that has been losing for a sustained period to mentally pick themselves up.

I query, after the loss in Game 2, how New South Wales will be able to mentally prepare themselves for this game. What will it take for New South Wales to believe they can win?

The odds are stacked against this team.

The game will be played in front of a hostile crowd. The Blues are public enemy number one. This could potentially be Cooper Cronk’s last State of Origin game. Cordner could still potentially miss this match. The Blues have not scored a point since the 28th minute of Game 2 and have not won a series since 2014.

The one positive that I take out of this year’s series is that New South Wales have almost named an identical team for each game this year. The team named is the future of our state and I have every confidence that a series win is not far away.

In the case of this year’s State of Origin series – I believe that the battle has been won. Cameron Smith will lift that shield for the 11th time in 12 years and there is very little the Blues can do about it.

If you’re a Blues fan looking for State of Origin victory – focus on the Women’s Interstate Challenge which takes place on July 23. The Blues have a very real chance of going back to back for the first time in this game’s history.

As for me, I’ll be tossing up between the Women’s World Cup and the Blues on Wednesday night. I’m not sure my heart can take another result like Game 2.