Some of the greatest State of Origin matches over the last 26 illustrious years
of Origin rugby league have been played in atrocious weather conditions –
driving rain, freezing conditions, sodden fields and soaked fans – inside
and out!

That won’t happen in the 2006 decider, being played tonight at Melbourne’s Telstra
Dome – with the roof closed to keep out the elements!

Good luck to Steve Bracks for “attracting” another major event to Melbourne –
critics of the decision to play the third game in Melbourne need to
direct their anger at the Australian Rugby League, not Steve Bracks, and not
even the National Rugby League (which does not “run” State of Origin).

So instead of concern about the “state of the track”, or the influence of the
wind on kickers, the only worry is whether the players will be able to hear
each other discuss moves, etc, in the enclosed stadium before a capacity crowd.
And that means the dreaded “trainers” may spend more time on the field than
they usually do – if that is possible!

And there is some serious misrepresentation going on in the promotion of the
game. If you believe some of the players and hangers-on, this is a trail
blazing event, a first for Melbourne and Victoria.

Not so. This will be the fifth State of Origin match to be
played in Melbourne, the first being at Olympic Park in 1990. The most successful was
at the MCG in 1994, just before the Super League debacle, attracting a crowd of
over 85,000. Tonight’s 50,000, admittedly a sell-out, looks less impressive in
comparison.

I’m sorry, but it is difficult to get enthused about a game played in such a
fake and sterile environment as tonight’s will be. And that’s not just my view
– given the fact the game will decide the series, and the Socceroos are out of
the World Cup, the level of interest in Brisbane, and I
suspect, Sydney, is much less than it should be.

But that will probably change at around 8pm tonight!

The Blues team is significantly stronger on paper than it was for the second game
– but it will need to be. The decision to play Mark Gasnier at five eighth
might be a gamble, but if it pays off, the selectors will be heroes.

The Maroons have been hit by injury – and even the surprise choice at centre,
Josh Hannay, remains under an illness cloud on the morning of the game.

And the good news for the two and a half million Melburnians who won’t be a
Telstra Stadium is that they can watch the game live on Channel Nine.

Apart from the fact the game is a decider, perhaps the most important news to
come out of tonight will be just how many of them do watch.

Peter Fray

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