Queensland defied most experts last week to grab a crucial 1-0 lead in the State of Origin series and now have a chance to win their 22nd series in Sydney on Wednesday night. Master coach Wayne Bennett and his assistant Mal Meninga were able to get eight rookies to play out of their skin and after trailing 10-0 at half time the Maroons took control of the game in the second half to win 18-14.
Bennett’s half time message to his players was simple and they carried it out perfectly with a great 40 minutes that had the Blues on the back foot for long periods. The look on coach Brad Fittler’s face after the full-time siren sounded portrayed the feelings of most NSW fans who expected the Blues to win comfortably.
They made too many simple errors in the first 20 minutes but with a flukey try early they went into the sheds 10-0 ahead with many fearing a big loss for Queensland. But one thing Queensland do well in Origin is launch comebacks when they look down and almost out and they did it again with a mix of hard running, defence and skill and determination, trademarks of past Maroon sides.
Teams who win the opening Origin game have a terrific record of going on to win the series. It doesn’t guarantee a team a series win, but it does give the winning team some breathing space and put the loser under immense pressure in game two. Queensland would be feeling on top of the world knowing the decider is back at Suncorp Stadium where they have a tremendous record, especially when the series is on the line.
The Blues have to win, it’s that simple.
They are at home and will have a majority of the 40,000 fans behind them. A few people commented that game one lack an “Origin feel” and I tend to agree with them. The fire and aggression in the opening exchanged was missing and niggle and aggro normally associated with Origin was lacking which robbed the game of the usual atmosphere. You get the feeling that will change in Sydney.
NSW have to go hard at Queensland, and they will. They won’t sit back and wait for their opportunities, they will create them. Cody Walker Is as creative as they come and Queensland will face a different style with Luke Keary out of the side. Losing skipper Boyd Cordner (head injury concerns) is a blow as he is so involved on the Blue’s left side with Keary so Fittler will have to make some major adjustments in attack.
This is a toss of the coin game but for the Blues, it is all or nothing and they have to play with that mentality.
State of Origin Game 2 – Wednesday, November 11
NSW Blues v QLD Maroons
ANZ Stadium, Sydney | 8:10 PM (AEST)
NSW Blues – There’s no second chances for the Blues and they will need to produce a much better performance than they did in game one when they turned over too much ball and played into the Maroons hands. Concerns over skipper Boyd Cordner’s health (several concussions) has forced him to sit out the rest of the series, forcing coach Brad Fittler to make some major left side adjustments after dropping Luke Keary following the 18-14 game one loss.
Angus Crichton will take over Cordner’s edge role while Cody Walker replaces Keary in the No.6 jumper with Fittler looking for more attack from his halves. Walker provides NSW with more attacking options than Keary.
When Fittler injected him off the bench in the second half in Adelaide in Game I there is no doubt the Blues looked more dangerous and troubled Queensland’s defence more. He has a lot more tricks in his bag than Keary because he plays off-the-cuff and can also help Nathan Cleary’s game as well. The big question for mine though is will the occasion get the better of him as it did a few years back when he cracked on the Origin stage.
While Cleary has excelled for Penrith at NRL level, his Origin figures are not as good having played six games without a try or a try assist, something he will need to fix on Wednesday night. On the plus side though is he has been involved in the past two winning series and he is far too good to hold down too long.
Cleary needs to put the Maroons under more pressure with his kicking game this time, turn them around, trap them in the corners and he needs to play more positively with the ball. Even with Cordner, NSW has a strong forward line-up who should be aching to square-up with the Maroons who took the honours as underdogs In Adelaide.
Losing utility Cameron Murray (hamstring) will also hurt NSW because of all the clean-up work he does, his fast play-the-balls and his ability to crack a fatigued defensive line. ANZ Stadium will be a sea of Blue on Wednesday night and the NSW will have a massive supporter base lifting them when they are out on their feet. They need to send the series into a Suncorp Stadium decider in Brisbane next week. That would put them in a position where they could lose a series they were expected to clean sweep by 3-0, an embarrassing loss to rival 1995.
QLD Maroons – Queensland can inflict another upset Origin series win on NSW on Wednesday night and they will be up for the game in enemy territory. With coach Wayne Bennett and assistant Mal Meninga – two of Queensland’s most successful representatives — they will be well prepared for the challenge. It’s no surprise Queensland is underdogs again, with the game in NSW which should help the Blues lift from their mistake-field performance in Adelaide.
Injury has forced Bennett to make some changes with fullback AJ Brimson suffering a foot injury in his debut Origin when he looked very good. Fortunately, his replacement Valentine Holmes has a lot of Origin experience and is a player who can produce a moment of brilliance?
Holmes is a player who can turn a game on its head but he is still adjusting back to rugby league after trying his hand at NFL football. Bennett has plucked Dunamis Lui out of the blue to make his Origin debut with forward Christian Welch sidelined through injury.
Cohen Hess has been dropped after again failing to deliver what was required in Origin I meaning Jadyn Su’A gets a start after being very impressive off the Maroons bench in Adelaide. Su’A broke the defensive line a few times but he can also come up with a defensive play that can lift his teammates.
Queensland has also called up Titans prop Moeaki Fotuaika who will make his Origin debut on the bench. Nothing much will change for Queensland in how they play but I expect they will be keen and willing to take on NSW through the middle through Papalii, Felise Kafusi, Su’A, Lui and big Tino Faasuamaleaui who out-performed their rivals a week ago. As they did in Adelaide, Daley Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster will call the shots and their clash with Cleary and Walker will be critical to the result.