FANS hate them, promotors hate them, on some level there’s no doubt even players prefer deciders, but dead rubbers have a way of revealing character.
On that score, Brad Fittler’s baby Blues showed plenty on Wednesday night. They didn’t have to, but they did. It matters.
Game three 2000 was possibly the lowest point for Queensland in Origin history. Some even suggested the Blues’ 56-16 win – and series sweep – was the death knell for the concept altogether.
Many remember it for Bryan Fletcher’s infamous hand grenade celebration, but there was something else in the match that caught Phil Gould’s eye.
On the NSW side of the ledger, no one ‘gets’ Origin better than Gus. On that night, he noticed a seemingly innocuous carry from Maroons forward Shane Webcke.
The game wasn’t just lost, the Maroons had copped their biggest pasting ever. The clock was ticking down but Webcke took a hit-up like it was his first of the match, carrying defenders, bumping others off, scrapping for every metre.
In his years that followed as NSW coach, Gould replayed it for his players every series. It epitomised what it is to be an Origin player.
Nothing tests those qualities like a dead rubber. It’s why, where fans may be ambivalent, those like Gould who really know the game watch them so intently.
Watching game three on Wednesday night, Kickoff was struck by the eerie similarities between the last time NSW went to Suncorp Stadium looking for a sweep in 2014.
Like NSW on Wednesday night, the Blues had no footy in the first half. The Maroons had enough footy to win three games, but were only up 6-2 at halftime.
In the second half, that resistance wavered. Queensland piled on four tries and won 32-8. In the sheds afterward, some players had surly, indignant responses to questions about whether the night was “bittersweet.”
It was though, and you got the sense there was at least some self-consciousness about the effort that screamed ‘we’ve won the series so who cares?’
You can never fluke an Origin series win as some suggested that year, but it lent credence to the theory that the Blues got lucky. The next year, NSW got hammered 52-6 in a decider.
On Wednesday, NSW made nearly a hundred more tackles than Queensland. They were down a man for 10 minutes but somehow scored two tries in that period to lead 12-8 at the half.
It’s hard to recall a side looking more spent than they did in the second. Their arms were dangling by their sides, they could barely lift them.
The series was already there’s, and yet they found still something. They could’ve turned it up, no one would have blamed if they did, but they found way to almost snatch it down the stretch.
It showed a one-off series win won’t be enough for this group. They’re in it for the the long haul.