This article was first written and published for NRL.com.
I’ve often compared rugby league to a pantomime and this year’s State of Origin series certainly hasn’t let me down.
At ANZ Stadium next Wednesday night, the curtain will come down on the three-act performance that is the 2019 series.
Next Wednesday night is one of the most anticipated State of Origin games in the history of the men’s competition. Very few have given Queensland a chance, but that view is fraught with danger.
NSW fans have learnt never to underestimate their rivals from north of the border and given the pressure is firmly on the Blues they’re going to need to be as vigilant as ever in this department.
I’m expecting the Maroons to play much better than they did in game two and embrace the underdog tag.
My big question is: Which coach’s crazy techniques will give their team the edge?
Throughout the series, we’ve seen Maroons coach Kevvie Walters employ some unusual ideas.
It started in the lead-up to game one, where he declared a ban on the words “New South Wales” and “Blues” from his camp.
This led to a comical situation where journalists would ask the players about their opposition and they would bumble their way through the respective press conference, doing whatever they could do avoid saying those words.
For those playing at home, it’s my understanding that Cameron Munster was the first to slip.
Words like “crazy” and “kooky” were used to describe Walters’ approach heading into game one, no doubt influenced by the mysterious so-called coach whisperer he is leaning upon.
Walters and his tactics prevailed, and Queensland won game one at Suncorp Stadium 18-14.
Then conversation shifted to game two at Optus Stadium and it was Brad Fittler’s tactics that came into question.
New South Wales only lost game one by four points. In fact, some say that had Jack Wighton not thrown that intercept pass, which found the chest of Dane Gagai as he ran 90 metres to score, that the game may have gone a different way.
But when Freddie announced his squad for game two, it was his coaching that came under critique. Was he buckling under the pressure?
For game two, Freddie swung the axe. Out of his starting back line for game one, only three players were retained and Latrell Mitchell was sensationally dropped.
Then there was a reshuffle to the forward pack following the injury to David Klemmer with the inclusions of Tariq Sims, Dale Finucane and Daniel Saifiti.
Despite the confusion around his selections, when the siren sounded at the end of the game many of us had to eat our words.
NSW were dominant in game two and beat Queensland 38-6. The master coach was back.
Now let’s talk about game three.
Queensland certainly have a challenge ahead of them. They are still missing several key players including Jai Arrow and Kalyn Ponga both being ruled out through injury. But their forward pack is much improved given that Joe Ofahengaue is available and Christian Welch will make his Origin debut.
Walters is keeping his cards very close to his chest. The big question is who will play fullback for the Maroons given they have plenty of choice including Michael Morgan, Corey Norman and Cameron Munster.
We saw Walters give a passionate speech to the media earlier this week about how much the Maroons jersey means to him and his players. Will that passion be enough to get them across the line in game three at ANZ Stadium?
As for Freddy and his Blues, people have again been left baffled by his selections. Effectively the squad has remained the same as the one that won game two.
No doubt the pantomime leading into this game is continuing.
There are rumours coming out of Queensland camp every day about who will play in that fullback position. Freddie has offered no explanation as to why he has left out Klemmer and Nathan Cleary is still racing the clock to be fit in time for next Wednesday night.
But for Blues fans, rather than overthink it, perhaps it’s best to simply trust the weird and wacky methods of Brad Fittler leading into this game with the hope that he’ll get the job done.