Thurston to resume normal service?
JOHNATHAN Thurston will tonight be anointed Origin's new iron man and in doing so is expected to recapture the form that has taken him to exceptional heights in the game.
When he runs out for the Maroons, Thurston will join Gary Larson on 24 consecutive appearances, the most by any player since the series started in 1980. The Queensland five-eighth is also the only man to have played every game in the Maroons' six-series winning sequence.
But while those are outstanding milestones, a return to his menacing Origin form is what the man, his team and his former captain are anticipating from him tonight.
Thurston has not delivered his trademark commanding performances in Origins I and II. And statistics reveal a more error-riddled Queensland side since his move from halfback to five-eighth for this series.
But Darren Lockyer, the man he succeeded in the No.6 jersey, says the finger of blame should not necessarily be pointed at Thurston.
"In the first two games the team has not been able to get on the front foot like so often in the past," he said. "Thursto needs space, and the forwards making good ground puts the opposition on the back foot and gives him that room.
"His other option is to stand deeper."
Lockyer also suggests Queensland's halves - Thurston and Cooper Cronk - should 'change it up a little'.
"Cooper can also play six, so Johnathan should jump in to first receiver now and again. That might put the Blues in two minds," he said.
Lockyer visited the Queensland players at Camp Coolum on Sunday, but did not offer Thurston any counselling.
"The last thing he wants is advice from too many different people," he said. "He knows his game and is a confident guy. I will be surprised if JT doesn't have a big influence on the result."
Conversely, Lockyer told a Brisbane luncheon last week that a clean break by Todd Carney in game two in Sydney - which led to a try - was probably the turning point for the rookie Blues five-eighth.
"But I still think he'll be nervous going into this game. He hasn't been in this environment too many times. If Queensland put pressure on him, he's a chance of being vulnerable," Lockyer said.
Talk surrounding the second successive Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium has centered on the Maroons' loss of fullback Billy Slater, but both sides go in to the clash minus unsung heroes.
Blues second rower Glenn Stewart is a massive loss, and his 'in-your-face' defence has made Thurston struggle to exert his expected influence. Stewart's ball-playing is another loss for the Blues.
In Ash Harrison, Queensland loses a workhorse, but replacement Corey Parker brings a similar work ethic and adds another dimension in attack.
But while both sides are riddled with class, the final result will almost certainly be decided by the team that lays the best early platform. In the 15 Origin deciders played, the team leading at half-time has lost only twice. Further emphasising the importance of a good start is the fact NSW has not been outscored in the past six second halves of Origin football.
With that centre-field domination in mind, Queensland has selected four props, while the Blues have named just two. And endeavouring to spoil the retirement party of 36-year-old Petero Civoniceva will be rookie Blues James Tamou and Tim Grant, who were 13 when the Queensland veteran made his Origin debut.
Played in front of a capacity crowd and a predicted record TV audience, this is one of the most anticipated Origin matches in recent history - and some say the most important.