OHatever seemed the most prescient scenario before State of Origin III quickly took a step back when news fell from the Queensland camp that Covid-19 had hit, with star five-eighth Cameron Munster and winger Murray Taulagi testing positive and forced to miss the decision maker.
As important to the 2022 squad as Wally Lewis was to the Maroons in the early 1980s, Munster’s enforced absence is the worst possible news for rookie manager Billy Slater and the Queensland faithful who had tied their cart to his horse for the all-important game. Three. The loss of is a hammer blow to Queensland’s chances, no more noticeable than in the betting line which moved a stunning six points in favor of New South Wales as soon as its withdrawal became public knowledge.
Munster’s ghost looms over Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night. But while Queensland’s hopes are unmistakably dim without him, the potential for an iconic, memorable and truly Queensland-esque victory rises, as the Blues now have to bear the burden of the pressure that comes with becoming short-listed favorites. term.
In that sense, the Maroons can play into one of their favorite tropes: the beleaguered, badass underdog with little hope. The abused and hapless but deeply fiery David versus a relentless Goliath who dominates the strip’s story in every way but the heart. This has the famous ’95 Fatty Vautin series or the 2020 year-end heroics written all over it. The Queensland mythology was built on those moments of triumph with their backs to the wall, of glories on the battlefield against all odds, of players without star power or gravity for that maroon shirt and their maroon brothers and their maroon state. There have been many times Queensland have falsely claimed to be an underdog; It’s not one of them.
There is, of course, immense pressure on any decision-maker, but Munster’s withdrawal has sent it skyrocketing on Brad Fittler and his team. Few give the Maroons a chance without their No. 6 alpha. The Blues’ backbone class, especially halfback Nathan Cleary and fullback James Tedesco, are expected to bring the line in NSW. It’s not a situation that Fittler or his key playmakers will particularly enjoy, however. This is particularly the case on the Queensland turf, with the memories of the 2020 series still fresh.
It certainly shifts focus to Fittler’s selection decisions. Jack Wighton played for the Blues in Game 1 but, after missing Game 2 with Covid, was not recalled. It was a stunning decision considering the struggles of five-eighth Jarome Luai and the lack of impact from Stephen Crichton and Siosifa Talakai – even in a big win. Fittler made some brave changes for Game 2 in Perth, but his selection of Jordan McLean to replace the injured Payne Haas was just out of left field. One of the form props Reagan Campbell-Gillard was widely expected to earn a recall but missed out on McLean and Newcastle third-string prop Jacob Saifiti. These are decisions that could draw scrutiny should NSW lose.
Much attention will also be paid to what Slater is doing to counter Munster’s absence. Tom Dearden and Corey Oates are now in the 17 and Oates will definitely start on the left wing. The composition of the spine, however, remains up in the air. Dearden could be a straight trade or the more experienced Ben Hunt could move into the fifth-eighth role, with Melbourne rake Harry Grant promoted to the starting line-up and Dearden used as cover on the bench. It wouldn’t be surprising if Slater prioritizes experience above all else.
We talk a lot about Suncorp, but it remains true that Queensland’s ability to find the right equipment when needed on this site is becoming a legend. In the last 14 games at Suncorp when the series was still alive, the Maroons won 13. They won seven straight, including five straight clinchers. Home advantage is an often overstated cliché, but in this case it could prove key to adding another famous chapter to Queensland folklore.