Australia’s biggest sporting stage is set for one of rugby league’s biggest games when State of Origin returns to the Melbourne Cricket Ground or Game II of the 2015 series.
The script has been written: a NSW side which finally ended eight long years of Queensland dominance last season, desperate to keep the series alive.
And the theatre is there too in the Blues’ frustration at perceived dirty, niggling tactics of the Maroons bubbles away.
The players, the actors are in the thick of it too. Passionate Blues skipper Paul Gallen returns from injury determined to right the ship. On the other side of the fence maligned Maroons playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans has the chance to put his highly-criticised contract saga behind him and pilot the Maroons to a victory that reclaims the Origin Shield.
Of course there is a chief villain too. Queensland prop Nate Myles, whom the Blues believe can get away with far too much.
It has all the makings of a State of Origin classic.
When Origin returns to Australia’s most famous sporting arena after an 18-year hiatus on Wednesday, it is the Blues who must force the pace to keep the series alive after their 11-10 loss in Sydney last month.
NSW have come under heavy criticism after Queensland showed much better composure when it mattered most.
But Game II offers a fresh chance for the Blues, boosted by the return of star winger Brett Morris and the indomitable Gallen from injury and the rise of a new superstar in the NSW jersey following the departure of Jarryd Hayne – Josh Dugan.
Dugan was NSW’s best in Game I and will need to reach those heights again.
“It is still heartbreaking that loss in Game I, but we have put it behind us, we had to and we have moved on,” Dugan said.
“But we have to learn the lessons from what went wrong, we have to play smarter, we have to be better when it counts. We can’t let our decisions fall down again from fatigue.
“We will be ready when the time comes and we have to be, because there are no second chances.
“There is a lot of belief in this team. We got the job done last year and there is every reason why we can again.”
Gallen has long since etched his name in Origin folklore, primarily as Queensland’s public enemy No.1.
But in what could be his final interstate series, he has implored his troops to embrace, not shy from, what awaits them at the MCG.
“To be able to run out there will be an amazing feeling,” Gallen said.
“It is the most iconic sporting ground in Australia and to be able to say you have played rugby league on it when you watch the Test matches and AFL grand finals there is going to be pretty special.
“This is what you play the game for and we have to make the most of it.”