This is it. The final game of the 2018 State of Origin series is here and while there's no decider on the cards given the Blues already wrapped up the series in game two at ANZ Stadium, there's no such thing as a genuine dead-rubber at Origin level.
Blue's half James Maloney has ignited the fuse on what could be an explosive contest by suggesting the long-fabled Queensland passion has perhaps been a bit of "smoke and mirrors" and that "maybe the Blues fans have them beat," and there's no surer way to fire up those north of the border than questioning their passion for the mighty Maroons.
Maloney may well have a point if struggling ticket sales are anything to go by. If Suncorp Stadium is anything less than full come kick-off on Wednesday night, it may be a case of Queenslanders struggling to come to grips with the end of a long-running State of Origin dynasty.
On the field, the Maroons have struggled to cope with the loss of key playmakers Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk and a period of rebuilding looks likely moving forward.
The Blues, led by captain Boyd Cordner, started the series with 11 debutants and a new head coach, but have handled the pressure of an Origin cauldron as well as any Blues side over the last 15 years or so and clinched a series victory well before heading to Suncorp for game three.
2018 - New South Wales 18 def. Queensland 14 at ANZ Stadium
2018 - New South Wales 22 def. Queensland 12 at Melbourne Cricket Ground
2017 - Queensland 22 def. New South Wales 6 at Suncorp Stadium
2017 - Queensland 18 def. New South Wales 16 at ANZ Stadium
2017 - New South Wales 28 def. Queensland 4 at Suncorp Stadium
The last time these two mighty foes met on the turf of Suncorp Stadium, it was with a series locked at one game each and a deciding fixture in the 2017 series. The Blues, who had started the series with a shock 28-4 triumph on the same ground had lost a close contest back home at ANZ Stadium and were desperate to end Queensland's tilt at a third straight Origin shield.
As the record books will show, Queensland obliterated the Blues 22-6 courtesy of a stunning hat-trick to winger Valentine Holmes and a rare Jarrod Wallace four-pointer and lifted the shield once again.
2018 sees two very different sides on the park and with the series already decided in favour of the Blues, Queensland will play for pride and the chance to send out some of their Origin greats in style.
The fact that any post-game presentations will be upstaged by Boyd Cordner and the Blues receiving the glittering State of Origin shield will leave a bitter taste for many north or the Tweed.
|Queensland||New South Wale s|
|1||Billy Slater||James Tedesco|
|2||Valentine Holmes||Tom Trbojevic|
|3||Dane Gagai||Latrell Mitchell|
|4||Will Chambers||James Roberts|
|5||Corey Oates||Josh Addo-Carr|
|6||Cameron Munster||James Maloney|
|7||Daly Cherry-Evans||Nathan Cleary|
|8||Jai Arrow||David Klemmer|
|9||Andrew McCullough||Damien Cook|
|10||Josh Papalii||Paul Vaughan|
|11||Gavin Cooper||Boyd Cordner|
|12||Felise Kaufusi||Tyson Frizell|
|13||Josh McGuire||Jack de Belin|
|14||Ben Hunt||Tariq Sims|
|15||Jarrod Wallace||Jake Trbojevic|
|16||Coen Hess||Angus Crichton|
|17||Tim Glasby||Tyrone Peachey|
|18||Christian Welch||Ryan James|
The facts that matter
With the series done and dusted, the Maroons enter game three on home turf with an overwhelming desire to prove that they're not so far behind the Blues and are not on the precipice of a dramatic overhaul following the retirements of several long-standing legends of the game.
Coach Kevin Walters will be aiming to ensure that he remains in place following just the second series loss for the Maroons in over a decade of Origin action, but he'll have to do it without inspirational skipper Greg Inglis, who has succumbed to a broken thumb after two strong performances in the first two games.
Inglis is replaced at his left centre by South Sydney club-mate Dane Gagai. Gagai has put together a long and distinguished Origin career on the wing, but will likely relish the chance to impress in a more central role.
Prop forward Tim Glasby backed Gagai to shine as Inglis' understudy.
"Greg put on some big hits and really got the guys going in that sense. A few of his tackles changed the momentum," Glasby said.
"We don't expect Dane to go out and be GI, we want him to go out and be the best version of Dane and that is the same with every position.”
The Maroons will also enter game three without enforcer Dylan Napa or exciting youngster Kalyn Ponga either. Napa, one of the Rooster's best in 2018, has withdrawn due to a knee injury while Ponga, who debuted in game two at ANZ Stadium suffered a hamstring injury while back on club duty with the Newcastle Knights.
Despite a vocal crowd behind them, the Maroons face a difficult challenge in avoiding a series whitewash on Wednesday night. With Thurston, Smith, Cronk or Inglis on deck, years of experience have been washed away and one or two ageing veterans have been exposed.
Plenty of pressure will sit on the shoulders of returning halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles star hasn't donned the Maroons jersey in three years and could face further exile if he can't drag a rag-tag bunch of Queenslanders to a game three victory.
New South Wales Blues
With the series already in the bag and a trophy presentation scheduled for the full-time siren regardless of the result on Wednesday night, the Blues could be forgiven for walking into game three more in survival mode than ready to give 110% and get stuck into the traditional Origin arm-wrestle.
But, this is State of Origin, the toughest, meanest and most physical contest our game has to offer and there's absolutely zero chance that Brad Fittler's men will be at anything but their very best as they attempt to exorcize the demons of the past with a definitive three-game whitewash.
Boyd Cordner enters the preparation period for the final game still under some doubt of being able to play thanks to a calf injury he suffered during the Blue's game two triumph, but is expected to take his place on the field and be there to lift the shield come full time.
Cordner told The Sydney Morning Herald's Andrew Webster he backed himself.
“My body feels good, mate. I would’ve been right to train earlier in the week but because we’ve got a long week, why not use it all up?" he said.
"I’m confident that I will be able to get through it. I wouldn’t play this year if I wasn't. We’re sitting good at the Chooks at the moment and I would not want to put that in any jeopardy by missing any games. Even if we had to play Origin five days ago, I would’ve been sweet.”
Another feather in the Blue's cap will be a long-awaited debut for Tariq Sims. The oft-injured big man has been close to this moment for a number of years, but will finally get to don the sky blue jersey and take to the field with his Blues brothers.
Sims comes into the side at the expense of Cronulla veteran Matt Prior who debuted in game two of the series. Sims comes onto the bench as Dragon's teammate Paul Vaughan moves to the starting side.
Titan's star Ryan James has been named as 18th man.
There's every reason to expect the Maroons will do everything in their power to prevent a heart-breaking whitewash on home soil, but even with a vocal crowd behind them and a point to prove, I'm not sure they've got enough in the tank to bring a halt to a rampant and vibrant young New South Wales outfit.
The Blues have blooded a number of exciting young stars this series and with the pressure off, I could see a scenario where the handbrake is release and the footy is thrown around a lot more, giving time and space to edge-weapons like James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell.
This could be the biggest win of the series for the Blues and it could put a real dampener on farewell celebrations for some great Queensland stars.
My tip: New South Wales by 12.
Who will come out on top in the third and final game of the 2018 State of Origin series? Let us know in the comments and poll below.