July 23, 2024

 It’s crunch time for the New South Wales Blues, who must win Wednesday night’s State of Origin match in Melbourne to stop a third consecutive series win for the Queensland Maroons.

The Maroons won the first game three weeks ago in Sydney after Blues centre Joseph Sua’alii was sent off in the seventh minute, leaving just 12 New South Welshmen to take on 13 Queenslanders.

For about 60 minutes the Blues seemed to be in the game, but the Maroons came home strongly to win 38-10, Queensland’s biggest-ever win in Sydney.

But as the Blues stayed competitive for much of the game, their fans now expect them to win – and many of the pundits have even installed them as favourites.

New South Wales have made five changes. The most talked about is the return of one of rugby league’s most controversial figures, Latrell Mitchell, at centre.

Off the field, Mitchell is perhaps the game’s most prominent Indigenous player, prepared to wrap himself in the Indigenous flag and speak out strongly about racism in the game. But this has almost made him a target for racists in the crowd and in social media, as has his occasional off-field lapses – most recently, a post-match interview in which he dropped five F-bombs in 20 seconds.

On the field, Mitchell is tough and explosive. He is a confrontational defender willing to throw his body at the opposition, while with the ball in the hand he can make defenders look silly with his pace and a nose for a gap.

He has the ability to create some magic, but he can also sometimes seem to lose interest in a match. And his fearless approach to defending can lead to him spending time on the sideline for dangerous play. It’s also his first game in three years at centre. Still, if Latrell Mitchell has a big game, New South Wales will probably win.

Halfback Nicho Hynes has been replaced by Mitchell Moses. Moses is one of the game’s best kickers and in the first game, that was an area where Queensland had a distinct advantage. But Moses is just back from injury, his form has been mixed, and his team Parramatta is currently last on the table.

Dylan Edwards makes his debut at fullback. A key part of the champion Penrith team which has won the premiership for three years running, Edwards could also be a big factor in a Blues win.

For Queensland, there are just two changes, both on the bench, with one of the new players being the Warriors forward Kurt Capewell.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow celebrates his opening try during State of Origin 1. Photo: AAP / www.photosport.nz

For Queensland, the key player could be a former Warrior, fullback Reece Walsh. Hit hard in the head by Sua’alii, Walsh lasted only seven minutes in game one. If he is back to top form, he is dynamite, a game changer with his pace, his ability to evade, and his competitiveness.

The Maroons’ main advantage is in experienced halfback and captain Daly Cherry-Evans who seems to produce his best in Origin games, and in their two hooker/utility players Ben Hunt and Harry Grant.

Between them, these three players share the ability to exploit weaknesses in defence with sharp running and pinpoint kicking. And the Maroons have the most exciting player in the competition at the moment, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, whose speed and fend makes him a very difficult man to keep away from the try-line.

If the game is a tough forward battle, probably the Blues will win. Their forwards are probably bigger and tougher than the Maroons. If it’s an open high-scoring game, probably the Maroons’ strikepower will prevail.

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