NSW celebrating a try in 44-12 win over the Maroons in game two (Image: @PenrithPanthers- Twitter)

Here are the important matchups for game three of the 2022 State of Origin Series between the NSW Blues and Queensland Maroons.

The 2022 State of Origin series will conclude Wednesday night with game three, the series currently sits at 1-1. The Queensland Maroons won the first game in Sydney in close fashion 16-10, and New South Wales won 44-12 at Optus Stadium in game two.

New South Wales has only won five of the 21 series deciders and has lost the last seven before beating Queensland in the 2019 series in game three.

In both games, we have seen the star players be the key difference makers in whether their side has won or lost the game in this series.

In game one, Nathan Cleary’s kicking game was shut down with incredible line speed on the defensive end from Queensland. At the same time, Cameron Munster in the second half had an all-time performance in the second half.

Patrick Carrigan played 64 minutes straight off the bench and showed he could contribute in all aspects of the game, dominating the forward packs from both teams with his running game while Kalyn Ponga showed why he is still a good fullback in the game, with his spot-on passes and defensive plays that helped Queensland stop New South Wales from taking the lead.

In game two, New South Wales put on an incredible second-half performance, with Nathan Cleary scoring 24 of New South Wales’ 44 points, as well as Matt Burton taking the kick pressure away from Nathan Cleary with kicks on the left edge that helped the Blues have a strong defensive performance that kept the game out of reach for the Maroons.

Game three is the most important game in this series and will bring out the best of our players in the current game and new era of the NRL and will come down to how specific matchups perform.

Kalyn Ponga vs James Tedesco

In game one, Ponga was everywhere, creating tries for his teammates with his passing and getting metres as well as being in the right spots at the right time on the defensive end to hold off New South Wales for the win.

In game two, he provided the start Queensland was looking for, however, with New South Wales’ performance in the second half on both sides of the ball, it was hard for Queensland to get a similar set-to-set position it was getting in the first game.

Where the Maroons will need Ponga to step up is to force himself in the game and get touches even when they’re not running their set plays to open up the Blues’ defence. Making metres out of its own half to even the set returns from New South Wales were essential in its territorial dominance, an area Queensland was beaten in within the second game of the series.

James Tedesco making metres everywhere on the field with his running game in game two of the series started what made NSW so good and helped even up the series. Only being used when New South Wales was in Queensland’s half in game one, Fittler made several changes and allowed Tedesco to carry the ball more often.

If that sustains in game three, it will allow guys like Nathan Cleary, Api Koriosau, and Damien Cook to continue from the runs that put the Blues in good field position.

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Daly Cherry-Evans vs Nathan Cleary

Daly Cherry-Evans had a disappointing performance in game two. A lack of a kicking game and playmaking presence in Queensland’s offence, was really what made New South Wales’ defence stand out.

In game one, Cherry-Evans was putting in kicks into New South Wales’ half, putting pressure on James Tedesco and its outside wingers to start its set in a strong position. His try from the scrum allowed Queensland flexibility and took the pressure off his halves partner Cameron Munster to creatively attack New South Wales’ defence.

With no Munster in the series decider, Cherry-Evans will have to control the game from start to finish, especially with his kicking game. If he can run the ball as well, that will open up space for teammates Harry Grant, debutant Tom Dearden, and Kalyn Ponga to move off the ball and capitalise in the open field, especially when they get halfway up the field.

Nathan Cleary will need to replicate his efforts from game two and evolve his first-half performance if the Blues are going to make the decider tougher than it is expected to be. Cleary has struggled with rushing pressure in both games so far and showed that in his running game close to Queensland’s try line, playing off passes from Jarome Luai made New South Wales’ offence open up in plays it was running.

Harry Grant vs Damien Cook

The utility role in Origin has played a pivotal role in how the games are shaped.

Damien Cook being allowed to play fast without the slow start that Api Koriosau embraces puts New South Wales in a better situation to win. Harry Grant has shown in this series and past Origin series, being able to play fast and speed up the play around the ruck.

For Grant, that is going to be a major principle in his game if he wants to tire out the New South Wales defenders, particularly the forward pack. In the first game, Valentine Holmes scored a try from Grant being able to realise the marker was out of line and the defensive line moving in, creating space on the outside.

Damien Cook running from the dummy half is going to be an important factor in the New South Wales’ offence. When Cook can get a marker or any players out of their spots on the line, he can play direct and make the defence have to chase him and have to pay a lot of attention to him compared to his teammates.

You can watch the series decider on Channel 9, with the game kicking off at 8:10 pm at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday, July 13.

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