Billy Slater of the Maroons passes the ball in a tackle from Nathan Cleary of the Blues during Game 2 of the 2018 State of Origin series. Photo: AAP
Billy Slater of the Maroons passes the ball in a tackle from Nathan Cleary of the Blues during Game 2 of the 2018 State of Origin series. Photo: AAP

Origin braced for 16-year black eye

QUEENSLAND is playing for pride in Origin III tonight at Suncorp Stadium.

NSW has already won the series but the job isn't over yet for Brad Fittler's "Baby Blues".

They can become just the eighth team in Origin's 36-year history to claim a 3-0 whitewash - and the first NSW team to do so since 2000 - with a win over Queensland in Brisbane tonight.

But the Maroons have the added incentive to avoid a clean-sweep. Billy Slater will be captaining his state for the first time in his last ever Origin appearance before the Melbourne fullback retires from representative football, and newly installed halfback Daly Cherry-Evans will be desperate for a strong performance to prove he deserves a mortgage on the No. 7 jersey.

Origin braces for 16-year black eye

Maybe James Maloney was right after all?

Queensland's State of Origin pride is on the line just hours out from Game 3 with reports the Suncorp Stadium crowd will be the lowest the game has seen in 16 years.

Origin officials have reportedly conceded ticket sales indicate the game will not be a sell-out.

A crowd of less than 50,000 is expected for the dead-rubber series finale - meaning Billy Slater will potentially be looking up at 2000 empty seats when he makes his final Origin appearance.

The crowd is expected to be the lowest Origin has seen since Suncorp Stadium's capacity was increased at the end of the 2002 series.

Just 47,989 attended Origin II in Brisbane 16 years ago which was the most recent time an Origin game failed to attract a crowd of 50,000 or more.

The crowd estimates come as Maloney earlier this week publicly questioned Queensland's Origin passion

"ANZ Stadium (Sydney) has been pretty chockers for a long time," Maloney said.

"Maybe that's the case. Maybe they're not as passionate as they think. Maybe the Blues have got them."

Meanwhile, ARLC chairman Peter Beattie has defended the price of State of Origin tickets.

He said more than 47,000 tickets had been sold for Origin III, nearing Suncorp Stadium's 52,500 capacity.

Beattie said the tickets were like airline tickets, when asked about the rising price of entry to Wednesday's game three in Brisbane.

"It's like buying airline tickets, if you get in early they're cheaper," he told Macquarie Sports Radio on Wednesday.

"There were $50 tickets for all three games ... and $145 for family tickets. "At the end of the day these are not bad figures when you consider it's for an international quality match." Hours later the NRL announced a limited number of $35 standing tickets would be available for the dead rubber, where NSW are looking to take their first series clean-sweep since 2000 against the Maroons.

Wednesday's game comes less than two weeks after a sellout crowd of 82,223 crammed ANZ Stadium for game two in Sydney, while almost 90,000 attended the opener at the MCG.

Remaining adult seating tickets for game three began at $300 on Wednesday afternoon.

- with AAP


Meninga weighs in on feud


Smith and Cronk aren’t as tight as they once were.
Smith and Cronk aren’t as tight as they once were.

Australian coach Mal Meninga has weighed in on the feud between the "Big Three" that has seen relationships sour between Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.

A Fairfax report claimed a falling-out between Slater's wife Nicole and Melbourne teammate Smith's wife Barbara was responsible for the breakdown in the pair's friendship, while professional differences sparked by Cronk joining the Roosters are reportedly at the centre of Smith's frosty relationship with the playmaker.

Slater denied he had any issues with Smith - or Cronk - this week, but former Maroons mentor Meninga has urged the players to sort any differences out.

We all have tiffs," Meninga told Fox Sports program Queenslanders Only. "I haven't talked to my brother for a couple of weeks because we had a tiff.

"From a team's point of view, if it's nagging away at the people around them, well address it really quickly.

"Whoever has got the issues, just talk about it. That's what we do in relationships, don't we? "Just talk about it."

Read: Slater addresses footy feud


Fittler's jab at Smith


Brad Fittler wants to make it 3-0.
Brad Fittler wants to make it 3-0.

NSW coach Brad Fittler has taken a sly dig at Cameron Smith, saying the veteran hooker retired because he didn't think Queensland was capable of beating the Blues this year.

Smith took the rugby league world by surprise when he called time on his representative career just a couple of weeks before Origin I, leading Fittler to suggest the rake was concerned a Blues outfit full of fresh faces was going to be too tough to overcome.

"For whatever reason, he might have thought we were picking 11 players that were harder than what he wanted to take on this year," Fittler said on Origin eve.

Smith's exit made Queensland's task even tougher, given it was already facing life without star playmakers Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, who retired from rep footy last year.

But the absence of names who have haunted NSW for over a decade doesn't diminish the achievement of this year's Blues side, with Fittler saying Queensland has slipped off in other areas while NSW has gone from strength to strength.

"Cameron retires and (Queensland) players are injured, I don't know why, but we can't control that at all," Fittler said.

"NSW has done a really good job at winning just about everything. They've won all the age groups the last couple of years, they've won the women's (Origin) now.

"Obviously Queensland have fallen behind somewhere.''


Tallis calls for new guard to take charge

Daly Cherry-Evans has a chance to make the No. 7 jersey his own.
Daly Cherry-Evans has a chance to make the No. 7 jersey his own.

As Queensland prepares to farewell another leader, ex-Maroons skipper Gorden Tallis has demanded a new one emerge in Wednesday's State of Origin III in Brisbane.

Stand-in skipper Billy Slater will play his 31st and final Origin in the Suncorp Stadium dead rubber before joining the Big Three - retired Maroons greats Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.

Queensland have struggled to deal with life without their big names to date - NSW have sealed their second series win in 13 years.

Tallis said it was time someone stood up and ensured Queensland denied NSW their first series whitewash since 2000, providing veteran fullback Slater a fitting farewell.

Slater captains Queensland for the first time in his last Origin, replacing Greg Inglis (broken thumb).

"They have to stand up and want to take that mantle. They have always sat behind (the Big Three)," Tallis told Sky Sports Radio.

"I know what it is like. I would walk into the dressing room and see Mal Meninga and was like 'oh my God'.

"They have had Cameron, Johnathan and Cooper in front of them so now someone has to stand up and actually be the leader.

"I thought Greg Inglis was outstanding in game one and two. Now there is a new chance for someone else to step up and say 'I am going to lead Queensland into the future'." Tallis could empathise with Queensland's current plight after taking over the captaincy in the wake of NSW's last whitewash series in 2000, capped by a record 56-16 game three loss in Sydney.

He led the Maroons to a 2-1 series win the next year, sealed by a 40-14 game three romp.

Asked what advice he would give Queensland to avoid a sweep, Tallis said: "I was in the Queensland team which had the biggest loss ever - I have to live with that.

"I would tell them how embarrassed I was (about 56-16).

"Don't be that guy. Make sure every kid in Queensland wants to be you the next day.

"And Billy will want to see his legacy live on." Tallis said it was time Queensland finally moved on from the Big Three and began a new chapter.

"You can't say Cameron Smith left us in the lurch. If he feels he can't go on, that's his decision - we have to win without him," Tallis said of Smith, who retired from rep footy just three weeks before the series opener. "Wally Lewis, Darren Lockyer, Arthur Beetson, Mal Meninga - they don't play any more and now we have to go on without Cameron Smith."

- Laine Clark, AAP


NSW out to spoil the party

It's a farewell for Billy Slater and a welcoming for Daly Cherry-Evans, but NSW players will be out to spoil both when they attempt a State of Origin series clean sweep in game three.

Slater will become just the second player to captain an Origin series at 35 years of age when he runs out in the final match of his Origin career on Wednesday.

And while Blues coach Brad Fittler declared Slater as the best fullback the game has seen, he urged his team to make it a memorable occasion. "He's set the standard for a long time, changed the way fullbacks played," Fittler said.

"It's our job to make sure that he remembers the game. We want him to remember it, not as a winning game, but as one of the hardest games he ever played. That is definitely our job." The match also marks the return of Cherry-Evans to the Origin arena, three years after his final game in Maroons colours back in 2015.

It looms as an important opportunity for the Manly captain to stake his claim as a part of the Maroons' future, however Blues captain Boyd Cordner is intent on ruining his chances.

"He's got his spot now and out to prove a point. We've got to try and nullify his options the best way we can, take some time and space off him," he said. "If I get an opportunity to, if that's my job, the back-rower and halfback, we'll find each other." Blues winger and Sea Eagles teammate Tom Trbojevic admitted the Maroons will be noticeably different in attack with Cherry-Evans orchestrating the attack compared to the axed Ben Hunt.

Trbojevic said Cherry-Evans had proven his ability to play first-receiver at Manly following the season-ending injury to halves partner Lachlan Croker earlier this year.

"Chez is a very quality player, and so is Ben Hunt. They're a bit different, but Chez is a ball-runner so we're going to have to focus on that," Trbojevic said. "It doesn't change too much, the way we want to defend and the way we want to play.

"He'll be on the ball a bit more. He's been doing that for us the last few weeks (at Manly), and is very good at it. We'll have to be on our toes to defend him."

- Matt Encarnacion, AAP

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