2021 NRL Player Movements
5 months ago | LeagueUnlimited Media
Cauldron boils COVID, fiery decider sold out
Christmas has come early for league fans, but unless Santa scores time on Premier Palaszczuk's lap and gets his border wish, the Cauldron will be a Maroon only broth. And for ear splitting crazy-eyed interstate mayhem, it's the way it should be.
As good as the Blues were in Sydney, the Maroons were flatter than Brisbane's surf. On paper at least, Wayne Bennett's men appear cooked but with the cult masses ruling the roost, you just never know.
On the field, kicking from the halves has been instrumental in the first two matches. Game One man of the match Daly Cherry-Evans kicked Queensland to victory, then a week later, an under siege Nathan Cleary replied in kind to keep the series alive. Opening try hero Xavier Coates and fellow winger Phillip Sami finished battered and bruised such was the Blues' pinpoint precision.
Sami won't be bothered this week, Bennett has swapped him out for Rabbitohs Mr Fixit, Corey Allan. In the middle, Christian Welch returns with the sparingly used Dunamis Lui dropping to the bench. But it's the halves and hooker where Bennett needs spunk. To that end, Harry Grant's dummy-half spark sees the Tiger debut from the interchange in place of Ben Hunt.
Ultimately, the availability of Cameron Munster could decide the Maroons' fate. His early departure in Sydney dimmed Queensland's lights and with question marks over his selection seven days later, hopes of preventing a NSW three-peat could be decided by the medicos.
As good as the Blues' were from the boot, it was the speed of Josh Addo-Carr that sounded the sirens. A toe injury has slowed the Fox in the aftermath and in the unlikely scenario that he misses out, Brad Fittler has included Ryan Papenhuyzen as back-up in the 21-man squad.
While NSW have pulled up largely unscathered, it's the devil in the head that will worry Fittler. A shocking three wins from 13 attempts at Suncorp since 2010 can't be ignored, and with six players yet to experience the leg-jellying furnace, there's little doubt the Blues coach will be sweating on past players and shrinks to alleviate the fears.
Last meeting: Game II, 2020 - NSW 34 QLD 10
Who to watch: In crazy times like these, if the decider was scrapped and Billy Idol tossed a rugby league redeeming microphone, you can bet the mosh pit would revolve around Game Two thrashers Payne Haas and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui. In a series that has often rumbled along at club footy intensity, the passion and angst generated by these two punks should culminate in a ratings revival. Niggle aside, in around 50 minutes of game time, both trucked for over 100 metres last week and inspired teammates with every touch. And with no footy until next season, what started as push and shove, could easily end in tears this week.
It's tough to be critical of Valentine Holmes behind a beaten pack, but Bennett needs more from the premiership winning flyer. Where James Tedesco's constant snipping and off the ball presence keeps defenses guessing, Queensland rely on Munster. But if the Maroons can at least draw level up front, they'll need Holmes at his scheming best.
The favourite: Nothing new here. Three games, the Blues favourite each time.
My tip: In four halves of football, NSW lead 3-1 but still find themselves in a battle to reach three consecutive series wins for the first time since 2005. That won't worry Queensland, with just two series deciding defeats at home in 40 years, they know Suncorp is the Cockroaches' biggest fear. That said, NSW are far more settled after the Adelaide hiccup and for the most part have outclassed an inexperienced opponent. Despite carrying the scars of Queensland's record breaking eight year dominance, expect the Blues' new era of clear heads to extinguish the Cauldron. Blues by 14.
5. Corey Allan 1. Valentine Holmes 4. Dane Gagai 21. Brenko Lee 19. Edrick Lee 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Christian Welch 9. Jake Friend 10. Josh Papali'i 11. Felise Kaufusi 3. Kurt Capewell 13. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 12. Jaydn Su'A 14. Harry Grant 15. Lindsay Collins 16. Jai Arrow
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Clinton Gutherson 4. Jack Wighton 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cody Walker 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Damien Cook 10. Payne Haas 11. Angus Crichton 12. Tyson Frizell 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Dale Finucane 15. Junior Paulo 16. Nathan Brown 17. Isaah Yeo
Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Chris Butler, Todd Smith; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy;