The stakes are always high in a State of Origin decider.
- 52,000 people are expected at Brisbane’s Lang Park stadium tonight
- It will be the largest sporting crowd in the world since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March
- Pre-COVID history shows there is an advantage playing State of Origin at home
But after a COVID-safe NRL season extended into October and an unprecedented back-to-back Origin series in Spring, tonight’s game will be rugby league’s big finale.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also upped the ante, increasing the crowd capacity at Lang Park to 100 per cent for Game III.
On March 8, four days before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, 86,174 fans attended the Women’s T20 World Cup final at the MCG.
The 52,000-strong crowd expected in Brisbane tonight is understood to be be the largest sporting event in the world since then.
New Zealand’s Bledisloe Cup hosted the second largest crowd since coronavirus hit, attracting 46,000 fans in October, while Sydney’s NRL Grand Final brought in the third largest crowd with some 37,000 people in attendance.
Those who attend the game will be closely monitored by the Queensland Government.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath yesterday revealed the ticketing company was tracing five people from Adelaide to make sure they don’t attend tonight’s match.
Fines remain in place for anyone who breaches Queensland’s quarantine rules, with Adelaide recently declared a COVID hotspot.
‘An amazing experience’
Both State of Origin sides held their final training sessions in their respective states yesterday.
NSW coach Brad Fittler conceded the Queensland game will be history making, regardless of the result, purely due to crowd numbers.
“That in itself will be an amazing experience, these blokes, a lot of them played in front of small crowds the whole season,” Fittler said.
The occasion is not lost on his Queensland counterpart Wayne Bennett, who knows the crowd will be in Queensland’s corner.
“No New South Wales people can travel up, virtually, and the players noticed it last week in Sydney — they couldn’t believe the atmosphere in Sydney with regards to the Blues because they heard nothing about themselves there,” he said.
“It’ll be [in] reverse, and it’ll all be Maroon.”
Pre-COVID history shows it’s a major advantage playing Origin at home.
Since 2000, the Maroons have an impressive record, winning 20 to 7 playing in Queensland.
The NSW Blues have not claimed a decider at Lang Park since 2005.
Fittler said while history has been a big discussion in camp, statistics mean nothing in State of Origin.
It’ll be particularly memorable for 2,000 people in the crowd: front-line health care workers were gifted tickets from the NRL, for their service during the pandemic.
Atmosphere will almost feel like ‘before COVID’
A rite of passage for many Queensland faithful is a trip to the Caxton Hotel, which neighbours the stadium, in the lead-up to kick off.
The hotel’s Katie Button said with social distancing still in place, despite restrictions easing, they’ll still be limited to 70 per cent capacity.
“We’ll still have the 1.5 metres within the venue then you’ve got to scan in through the QR code.”
Restrictions still apply to players too, in their respective COVID-safe bubbles, requiring NSW to travel in and out of Queensland on game day.
Queensland has not won a State of Origin series since 2017.
NSW took out last year’s shield after levelling the series in Game II then proceeding to win the decider.
The game kicks off at Lang Park at 7:10pm AEST.