Former Australia and New South Wales centre Mark Gasnier believes Wednesday’s State of Origin decider will be dominated by the Blues’ forward pack.
That is despite Queensland hosting the much-anticipated Game 3 at Suncorp Stadium – and NSW’s poor recent record.
The Blues have won just one Origin series since 2005, when Gasnier scored a try and helped his state to a famous win in the decider, also in Brisbane.
And the Fox League commentator can see a repeat on the cards, naming the likes of Andrew Fifita, Josh Jackson and Aaron Woods as players capable of making the difference.
“Queensland’s forwards – they basically decide if they are going to win the series or not,” Gasnier told The New Daily.
“Don’t get me wrong – Queensland’s forwards try their guts out … but they [Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk] have masked their weaknesses [in recent times].
“If New South Wales win the series, it’ll be off the forward pack’s work.”
Gasnier said Wednesday’s clash – to be played in front of a sell-out crowd and expected television ratings in the millions – will be “one hell of a decider”.
And he said the motivation of winning an Origin series in enemy territory would spur Laurie Daley’s side on.
“We were in the exact same situation in 2005,” he said.
“We went up there and were fortunate enough to win it … it was huge.
“Ultimately you treat it as an us-versus-them contest. You have the opportunity to beat them in front of their home crowd.
“You can’t have a series or even a game that’s so competitive, with so much passion, and not want to stick it to each other.
“I think that’s the closest motivation for New South Wales … to go and win it up at Suncorp and hold the shield up in front of their home fans, I think that would be very appetising.”
Gasnier rejected suggestions the crowd could put NSW players, including Mitchell Pearce, off their game.
He pointed to the first two games of the 2017 series – the Blues won the opener 28-4 before throwing away a 10-point lead in Game 2 to lose a nail-biter – as evidence of NSW’s dominance.
“You have to remember they have no Greg Inglis, no Johnathan Thurston, no Matt Scott, so it is a very understrength Queensland team,” he said.
“I thought Queensland did an amazing job of showing some grit and determination [in Game 2] and resilience just to hang in there, because they were constantly on the back foot.
“New South Wales’ forward pack has been so dominant this series.”
And while Thurston’s shoulder injury gives his Blues a much better chance of victory, Gasnier admits the Maroons legend’s absence is bad for the game.
Thurston, rugby league’s finest current player, had previously said that 2017 would be his last at Origin level.
“I wish Johnathan Thurston was playing. I would have loved to see him get the farewell he hoped and dreamed for.”
He won’t, though, and that only helps the Blues, in Gasnier’s opinion.
Time will tell.
– with reporting from James Ried