With everything up for grabs, Queensland Maroons will be missing captain Paul Gallen for the climatic third match of the State of Origin series.
It’s one game apiece so far, with the Blues winning the first match 14-6 at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, helped by Gallen who moved into the front row.
New South Wales are aiming to end a seven-year whitewash against Queensland Maroons ahead of Game 3 on June 17.
The Maroons levelled the series 1-1 on June 26 in Brisbane with some excellent penalty shooting from Jamie Thurston, who converted five of six. There were tries for Darius Boyd, Sam Thaiday and Greg Inglis along the way in a 26-6 thrashing of the Blues in Game 2.
Lock and Prop Gallen is appearing in his fifth series for New South Wales and Game 3 will be the first match he has missed in that spell. With 215 games for Cronulla-Sutherland and 200 points racked up, the captain’s absence on Friday over a foot injury is a massive blow to the Blues.
But his omission doesn’t necessarily mean an easier encounter for Queensland, according to Captain Cameron Smith, who told ABC Sport: "There's no doubt he (Gallen) is a huge loss. He's their captain and he's a guy that it doesn't matter what situation their team is in, he puts his hand up to do plenty of work," Smith said.
"He finishes the State of Origin every time he plays with 20-plus carries, he's up around the 30-tackle mark.
"We're not taking that lightly. We don't think they are an easier side to play against because Paul Gallen is out.”
Powerful second-row player Boyd Cornder, who is 12 years the junior of Gallen, could be tossed into the deep end to make his first appearance for New South Wales in the series. The 21-year-old’s strength and physical defensive play will be an extra addition to the side after an excellent season with Sydney Roosters.
He has made 44 appearances since 2011 in the NRL, and the Blues will be mainly looking to thwart the kicking strength of the Maroons in Game 3. Aaron Woods, who has just the single Origin match under his belt at the age of 22, is another potential replacement for Gallen.
Woods has been integral for club side West Tigers over the last few seasons and his ball-running/carrying skills are highly thought of in the NRL. He was also nominated for Prop of the Year in 2012 and guaranteed a spot in the Origin series.
Gallen’s injury is unfortunate, both in timing and luck, for New South Wales, who will be up against a side that knows how to punish the Blues for chasing the game. It’s huge for NSW to end the domination of the Maroons, as said by ABC Sport.
It is not the first time the Blues' hopes of a drought-breaking series victory have been pinned on a decider, but - after seven straight years of Queensland domination - it is perhaps their biggest moment in Origin's 28-year history.
Tonight, if lady luck is on their side, might be one to remember for the Blues—but expect a hard slog for victory.