FORGET the flashy plays.
The decider won’t be won off the back of a freakish piece of play. It will be calculated.
And if executed right, it will be largely thanks to an unsung hero.
While the likes of Billy Slater, Dane Gagai and even Josh McGuire have been spoken about at length by New South Wales, if Queensland are to win game three it will likely be because of their skipper.
Former Maroons five-eighth Ben Ikin believes it’s Cameron Smith who holds the key to Maroon glory on Wednesday.
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It’s no secret the No.9 is a crafty operator.
Smith, 34, has made a career out of not only picking the smart option every time but influencing the tempo of the game.
While Andrew Fifita was praised for his efforts in Origin I with a try, try assist, seven tackle busts and 168 running metres, Ikin pointed to the unnoticed work from Smith which players a greater role in the result of a match.
It’s the work which often goes unnoticed that makes the greatest impact on the result.
“He can produce the odd highlight but he’s not a highlights type player. I’ve always said the better Cameron Smith goes, the less you notice him, primarily because at his best Smith makes those around him shine.” Ikin told the Market Watch podcast.
Ben Ikin and Nathan Ryan reveal the target areas and identify the strengths each Origin side should exploit ahead of Wednesday’s decider.
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“It’s his ability to get out and engage markers, one step here, two steps there, or stifle the attack of an opposition team through the middle third with his clever and suffocating defence. Those things will never ever make a highlights reel but they undoubtedly put Queensland in a strong position.
“It’s not so much where he kicks but when he kicks, not how he passes but when he passes, and which side he chooses to go to in attack … and he does it over and over.
“While you may finish a game and think Cameron Smith hasn’t really had an influence, if Queensland have won there’s a big chance he’s been the guy most responsible for the victory. Just the way he goes about unpicking opposition teams stitch by stitch.
“For what might be in one player’s case three or four brilliant plays, will be 70 odd plays that go unnoticed from Cameron Smith.”
WHERE QUEENSLAND IS STRONGEST
Ben Ikin says; “Nine, seven and one. They are legends of the game. It has always been Qld’s champions who have delivered throughout this rich run. When Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith all reached their full potential at this level, they continued that winning ability to close out games like Darren Lockyer before them. It’s not common that a player can be consistently great in that area of the game and Queensland have had three and four of those players for the last 10-12 years.”
Mick Ennis says: “Without a doubt it’s Cameron Smith. He single handily got Queensland back in the game for that second game. It was noticeable from a dummy half’s point of view that momentum changed when Smith was getting over the advantage line. That brought Billy Slater into the game. It’s dangerous for NSW that Smith has been disappointed with his Origin series so far. He’ll be in for a big one.”
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WHERE THE BLUES CAN SHINE
Ben Ikin says; “It’s the Andrew Fiifta type brilliance which exists in so many of their players. It’s such a talented roster. They need to replicate what they did in game one and for the best part of game two, which is continually asking questions of the Queensland defence. Funnily enough that’s how Mitchell Pearce likes to play. Pearce gets criticised for not being able to slow the game down, but that’s not his way, he wants to test you all the time. And that’s the real strength of this NSW team. It’s almost impossible to see where the next threat is going to come from because there’s so many of them.”
Mick Ennis says: “The forward pack of Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods and David Klemmer and how they are rotated. They’ve been superb for the majority of the series but I thought NSW left Fifita off the field for too long in game two. In game two there was a period where momentum was starting to turn Queensland’s way and I thought Laurie (Daley) left Fifita off for five or 10 minutes too long. Fifita is the key but the role of Woods and Klemmer is also very important.”
WHERE QUEENSLAND IS VULNERABLE
Ben Ikin says; “They can struggle to hold NSW in the middle. They were so well beaten there in game one. If NSW can throw a fair bit at Queensland through the middle, that’s the only weaknesses I can see. I’m also interested to see how they use Ben Hunt. The utility bench role is more difficult than people think. When Hunt comes on, does he plays in the halves, dummy half or in the middle? And do you want that much movement in the key positions during an Origin match?”
Mick Ennis says: “Their lack of ability to contain the NSW big men. The Blues are so much bigger and powerful. They are using their little guys to try and generate momentum. That’s Queensland’s weakness. Dylan Napa and Josh McGuire were much better in game two and they’ll need to continue that. They’ll be tested through that middle third. I’d like to see Nathan Peats hold the markers and move their forwards around as they start to tire.”
WHERE THE BLUES WILL STRUGGLE
Ben Ikin says; “They can play too fast and their football gets loose. That’s what happened in game two. They got a little over confident, lost concentration and then mistakes crept in. They can ask a lot of questions and be busy in attack but they can’t be frantic. They can’t do too much, too often.”
Mick Ennis says: “Their edge defence. In the first game we saw (Jarryd) Hayne turn in and Justin O’Neill get outside him. In game two (Valentine) Holmes went over in the corner when (Josh) Dugan and (Blake) Ferguson were disconnected defensively and Hayne over chased when (Michael) Morgan put the flick pass inside (for the match winner). We have two guys who are brilliant players in Hayne and Dugan who are not playing their natural position. I think it’s the hardest spot to defend in terms of decision making. They’ll be tested there again in the decider.”
It’s a decider, so you know it’ll be close.
When it comes to Origin, predictions will be divided by state.
But history can teach us much about the future, and it tells us that Queensland has won 10 of the past 11 series for a reason.
The Maroons also love it when they’re the underdog and without Johnathan Thurston in their side, it’s a status they’ll claim.
BUT you never, EVER write off this champion Queensland side.
Over to you, fellas.