Stage set for Origin decider to remember

Emotional swansongs? Check.

Injury dramas? Yep.

Conspiracy theories? Of course.

Anyone north of the Tweed River a David Klemmer fan? Probably not.

Either way, the script could not have been written better for the State of Origin series decider on July 8 in Brisbane.

The Maroons will look to send out veteran centre Justin Hodges a winner in front of a sold-out Suncorp Stadium.

Few will forget Hodges’ Origin debut back in game two 2002 – for all the wrong reasons.

Picked at the age of 19 and out of position on the wing, Hodges never looked at home but still surprised when he suffered one of the great brain snaps – twice.

In a gaffe that would rival maligned NSW half Mitchell Pearce’s YouTube blooper reel, a nervous Hodges fielded a grubber in-goal before inexplicably throwing a “hail Mary” pass and gifting NSW a try.

That was difficult to fathom.

Which made it even harder to believe that Hodges did it again barely 30 minutes later.

Fast forward 13 years and the 23-Origin game veteran has matured into a Maroons leader.

The 33-year-old was a mainstay of Queensland’s record eight straight series streak that ended last year.

Queensland believe reclaiming the Origin title would provide a fitting sendoff.

However, NSW bruiser Klemmer is making a habit of spoiling Queensland’s plans.

The fiery 200cm, 120kg forward will be public enemy No.1 when he is injected off the bench.

Relishing his first Origin series, Klemmer, 21, has ruffled feathers with his ‘in-your-face’ approach but Queensland believe he went too far in their 26-18 game two loss in Melbourne.

Sick of Klemmer mouthing off in his second match, 33-year-old Maroons veteran Corey Parker demanded his young rival “show some respect”.

Judging by the expletive-riddled response, Klemmer didn’t grant the request.

Now with a target on his shaved head, Klemmer will again look to spark NSW’s monster pack that has dominated at times in the series.

Another in the limelight is NSW teammate Robbie Farah.

It is fair to say the hooker is keen to play game three.

He underwent hand surgery the day before he arrived in NSW camp at Coffs Harbour – albeit after he was stopped boarding his initial flight because he hadn’t received a medical clearance.

In the meantime niggling Cronulla rake Michael Ennis looms as his replacement despite receiving a one game ban from the NRL judiciary.

In a move that will stoke Queensland’s ever flickering conspiracy theory fires, NSW can exploit a loophole that allows the banned Ennis to don the Blues No.9 jersey on July 8 if Farah succumbs.

Queensland also have injury dramas.

Their backline has been reshuffled after fullback Billy Slater underwent post-Origin II, season-ending shoulder surgery.

Greg Inglis moves to No.1, Will Chambers to the centres and Newcastle young gun Dane Gagai makes his Origin debut on the wing.

The Maroons will also sweat on returning halfback Cooper Cronk who hasn’t played since missing game two with a knee injury.

His stunning comeback ensured there was no room for disappointing game two halfback Daly Cherry-Evans in the Maroons’ 17.

The polarising Cherry-Evans may be known for a backflip but Queensland coach Mal Meninga could be accused of pulling off the biggest by cynics.

Known for his loyalty, Meninga raised eyebrows north of the border when he cut Cherry-Evans – once dubbed a future Queensland captain – for two-Origin rookie Cowboys utility Michael Morgan in game three.

NSW skipper Paul Gallen also saw his Origin career flash before his eyes ahead of game three.

His NRL club Sharks coach Shane Flanagan dropped the bombshell that Origin III would be his star charge’s last for NSW – much to Gallen’s surprise.

It seems Gallen wants to frustrate Queensland for at least another year – possibly after raising the Origin trophy for the second straight season on July 8.

Either way, the stage is set for a series decider to remember.

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