This article for first written for and published for The Roar.
The only thing stopping the New South Wales Blues from destroying the Queensland Maroons in tonight’s State of Origin fixture is belief.
If the Blues believe they are the better State of Origin team – and they are – then they will put a margin on the Maroons.
Game I in Melbourne at the MCG showed that NSW are not only the superior side, but are the only side heading in the right direction.
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» The Liebke ratings
» Nine talking points
» Match report: Blues take the series
» WATCH: Video highlights
» Re-live the match with our live blog
Dare I say it, but the Blues should complete a State of Origin clean sweep this year. The last time it happened, Sydney hadn’t hosted the Olympic Games yet.
On paper, NSW is better on every line. For the first time in a decade they have the more talented side, particularly when you look at the halves.
But we all know that’s not how State of Origin matches are decided.
It’s a cliche, but once that whistle is blown to start the match, talent can go out the window.
We all know Queenslanders are proud and they have form at bouncing back.
Who could forget last year when the Blues went up to Suncorp Stadium and upset the apple cart.
Not only did they win, but they destroyed the home side, winning 28-4.
It was unthinkable that New South Wales would lose the second match, in Sydney. But it happened.
Led by veterans Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, the Maroons made a spirited comeback after being down 16-6 at half-time to win, 18-16.
I knew that once the Blues lost that game, that Game III would be won by the Maroons. And I was right – by the time the third game rolled around, the Blues had lost belief.
This year, there’s no Smith, Thurston or Cronk. Just Greg Inglis and an ageing Billy Slater with a dodgy hamstring.
If the Blues don’t have belief now, they never will.
Tonight is not only the chance to win a series, but to start a new era. It’s no secret that Queensland have won 11 of the past 12 Origin series, but older Blues fans will still remember a time when NSW was the superior state.
From 1992 to 2005, Queensland only won three series. The Blues won ten and two were drawn.
This current crop of NSW players has ‘era’ written all over them.
The likes of Nathan Cleary, James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr and Jack De Belin should be around for many years to come. This is a nucleus that Brad Fittler can build a dynasty on.
Skipper Boyd Cordner still has at least three or four good years left in him, while Damien Cook proved a revelation in Game I.
The Blues have more depth than the Maroons and it was even more pronounced in Game I when Kevin Walters decided not to pick Kayln Ponga because of fears that he was too young.
Looking back on that game in Melbourne, it was clearly dominated by NSW. However, it must be said Queensland still had opportunities to win.
The Maroons led 12-8 when Dane Gagai scored in the 43rd minute. The momentum had shifted in their favour after the Blues dominated most of the first half.
But one lineball decision that went in the Blues’ favour shifted the game. NSW made the most of its opportunity deep into Queensland territory through Latrell Mitchell, which was backed up two minutes later when Tom Trbojevic crossed the stripe.
All of a sudden, doubts were quashed and the belief was back.
If Brad Fittler and his men keep that belief rolling into Game II tonight, there’s no reason why the Blues won’t win and win comfortably.
Inspired by Maddie Studdon and the NSW Blues women’s win on Friday night and 80,000 spectators at ANZ Stadium, it should be a historic weekend for New South Wales.
For the first time, the Blues will hold the men’s and women’s State of Origin shields.
Credit must be given to the NRL for a brilliant weekend of rugby league. The decision to give club games a spell and place representative football in prime time has paid dividends.
The Pacific Tests were a wonderful celebration and proved that crowds still get out to watch footy when they want to.
Tonight’s game will be a ratings winner and also a winner for the Blues. I’m tipping NSW 32-10 and the Blues will go on to claim the series 3-0.