Queensland coach Kevin Walters said his loyalty towards unfit players cost his side this year’s State of Origin crown.
The Maroons host game three of the 2018 series at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday evening but know that only pride is on the line.
New South Wales holds an unassailable 2-0 lead, with the Blues making the most of the retirements of Queensland greats Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk to win just their second Origin series in 13 years.
Speaking before Wednesday’s match, Walters said he was still regretting the decision to pick players battling injuries for this year’s Origin opener.
Halfback Ben Hunt (thigh) and winger Dane Gagai (finger) brought niggles into Game 1, while Billy Slater pulled out late due to a hamstring injury.
“It has been a different Origin series for us being 2-0 down, but I have learned a lot about myself and about the team as well,” Walters said.
“I have learned … you need fit players at Origin level to be competing.
“I think in Game 1 we brought some guys in who were not quite fit enough.
“We like to be loyal, but we also have to be a little bit smarter. But when you’ve got four or five players that aren’t fit but belong at this level, it is a tough one.”
Walters will not make the same mistake in Game 3, with captain Greg Inglis (broken thumb), young star Kalyn Ponga (hamstring) and playmaker Michael Morgan (biceps) all ruled out of the clash.
Legendary fullback Slater will step up as skipper in what will be his 31st and final Origin fixture.
Walters is hopeful the Maroons can win for Slater, a result he feels is just around the corner.
“We haven’t won a game as yet in the series, but that’s not to say we haven’t been close or heading in the right direction,” he said.
“I think tomorrow night will be a really good indication of where we are at as a group.”
Blues out for a slice of history
Only seven Origin teams have completed a whitewash since the series was contested over three games, beginning in 1982.
And just two sides have done it in the past 21 years, meaning New South Wales is on the verge of greatness, according to coach Brad Fittler.
“Only two teams in the last 21 years have done it. So there’s a fair carrot there. Some great teams. Only great teams get to do it, so this team gets an opportunity,” he said on Tuesday.
“They [whitewashes] don’t come easy. Through that whole reign of Queensland, they did it once. So it just says it’s not easy to do for whatever reason.
“There’s some real big challenges mentally to get over the top of, and physically. If [NSW] can do that, for a lot of blokes who are playing Origin for their first time, it’d be pretty impressive.”
It would be easy for Fittler’s ‘Baby Blues’ to drop their bundle with the series already won, but the coach said his side had worked hard in training over the past week.
“I suppose there’s a little bit of doubt there,” he said.
“You wonder how it’s all going to come out. But the effort’s been the same if not better, just because they know each other and know how to push each other now.”
The State of Origin broadcast begins from 7pm on Wednesday (AEST) on the Nine Network.