AFTER the Blues went down by eight points in Origin I coach Ricky Stuart made the observation that the gap that had so obviously existed between NSW and Queensland over the past six seasons had all but been closed.
He went on to say that ‘‘if it wasn’t closed completely, we’re only one kick of the door from doing so’’.
In making that statement he was both right and wrong.
Correct in the fact that there is very little between the states, as shown by the narrow margins in both Origins this year.
Wrong in that after success in Sydney it will now take another kick to leave no doubt that the Blues are worthy of bringing this Maroons record-breaking run to an end.
Until that happens, the door will remain ajar.
NSW looks better on paper, but Queensland has the home ground advantage.
While NSW face the same scenario as they did 12 months ago, they go into tonight’s clash much better placed.
On that night they failed to handle the occasion and were blown out of the water in the opening 20 minutes, which amounted to ‘‘game over’’.
Tonight they go into the lion’s den with more ticks than they do crosses.
Read about South Leagues club president Paul Merlo's one and only Origin dig here.
They do have to overcome the home-ground advantage of Suncorp Stadium, which is traditionally a difficult assignment.
NSW have won only 17 of 46 matches played at the venue, and have lost four of their past five there.
It will obviously be an unbelievably emotional evening with so much at stake and the state swansong for the great Petero Civoniceva.
To be honest, such external motivation has little impact once players cross the white line and go into battle.
Elite performers love big-match occasions and if the Blues can soak up the experience, then the intensity and antagonism of the parochial crowd can actually help their ‘‘us against them’’ mentality.
Of bigger concern is the effect the full house can have on the referees.
Tony Archer and Ben Cummins will need to remain clear-headed and unflappable, as it is almost human nature to be subconsciously swayed by the insistent nature of home fans.
The loss of Glenn Stewart is also significant because he has been one of the biggest factors in keeping Johnathan Thurston relatively quiet.
His defensive work on the right edge has been faultless and the Maroons’ master playmaker has found very little room to work in.
Every time he has had the football, Glenn has been in his face, and at ANZ he was able to bustle and harass the five-eighth into a number of uncharacteristic mistakes and poor decisions.
Now onto the positives for the Blues, with the main one being an apparent denting of confidence within the Queensland camp.
It has seemed to me there have been subtle indications that Mal Meninga and his men realise the threat of this current opposition squad and as a result have sounded less assured than I can ever remember.
It may be only slightly different, but any self-doubt at this stage is counter-productive, which in my opinion makes the opening exchanges tonight even more crucial.
The Blues have eight players who were part of last year’s decider, but that doesn’t show how we have finally learnt to show the necessary faith in those players chosen.
As usual Queensland have not used more than 20 players in each of their past three campaigns.
In 2010 NSW used 30, last year 25 and this season just 21, and the players have responded to the loyalty they have been shown.
I also see them being buoyed by coming up against an outfit without the services of Billy Slater, Ashley Harrison and Dave Taylor.
Despite an abundance of talented options to choose from at fullback, Slater is irreplaceable.
Greg Inglis has been in awesome form at club level at the back and will be a handful again tonight, but being an Origin No.1 is different and something that Billy has mastered.
He attacks the ball while Greg attacks when he gets the ball, and there is a difference.
At least NSW will be hell-bent through their kicking game to make sure there is a difference.
The contribution of Harrison is annually overlooked and his workrate and efficiency will be fully missed by the northerners.
The fact that he and skipper Cameron Smith are the only forwards to have been used for the full 80 minutes in both games this year is a clear sign of how he is viewed within the Maroons.
With Taylor also out of the 17, Ben Te’o makes his debut and the first one to do so for Queensland in a decider since prop Danny Nutley back in 2005. Ben is athletic and aggressive, but with no disrespect, I fancy that the Blues will be more confident in keeping the youngster contained than having to deal with the ‘‘Coal Train’’.
Dave may have been down on form in games one and two, but coming off the bench for 25 to 30 minutes in a couple of stints tonight could well have proven very difficult for the visitors to handle.
I know it is at club level, but Dave’s performance against Penrith was a reproduction of Tony Williams’s barnstorming effort against the Roosters a week earlier.
Ultimately, though, NSW will be confident of success because they believe that over the last 160 minutes they have played the better football.
They understand that if Michael Jennings had not knocked the ball out of the grasp of Brent Tate as he was about to score last game that tonight may well have been a dead rubber.
Still they believe that they have been the better side overall.
They will tell you that Queensland forced six line dropouts to the Blues’ zero in Sydney and still couldn’t beat them.
They will tell you that this is their time and that they are certain the door has been slammed shut.