The Pearce enigma
Just five days after yet another Origin stinker – and make no mistake, despite Laurie Daley’s contentions otherwise, that’s exactly what it was – Mitchell Pearce comprehensively outplayed Queensland linchpin Cooper Cronk at club level. He forced repeat sets with perfectly placed kicks, frequently took the line on, found the mark with his passes and produced five offloads as the Roosters routed the Storm 24-2.
Why can’t he produce the same punch and poise at representative level, particularly when last Wednesday’s match was one of the less intense Origins of recent years? His performance in the series opener must have had the Pearce apologists shaking their heads in frustration (or in Daley’s case, flat-out denial), while providing his army of detractors with ample ammunition – and the Maroons with an armchair ride to victory.
Pearce will more than likely receive another chance at the MCG in game two, where he must replicate his stellar club form or forever be branded an Origin failure.
Daley’s blind loyalty will destroy Blues
Maybe it was the emotion of an Origin cliff-hanger taking over, but NSW coach Daley rubber-stamping the retention of Pearce and Trent Hodkinson during the post-match press conference was absurd. He can’t expect to go into game two with the same combination and expect a different result…isn’t that the definition of insanity? Daniel Tupou, Will Hopoate and Andrew Fifita fall into the same category, while Trent Merrin, Boyd Cordner and Josh Jackson did themselves few favours in the series opener.
The Blues need something different; some game-breakers. Daley’s defensive, ultra-conservative approach (only just) worked last year against a Cronk-less Queensland when he had the crutch of Jarryd Hayne lifting his side. The Maroons will coast to a series cleansweep unless he throws caution to the wind.
Origin I: The good, the bad, the ugly
The good: Will Chambers, Cooper Cronk and Josh Dugan were the three standout players on the paddock; James Tamou and Dugan conjured one of the great Origin tries for Josh Morris; David Klemmer and Josh McGuire impressed on debut off the bench; Cronk proved his status as one of the all-time great clutch performers with his second match-winning field goal in the space of seven Origins.
The bad: Pearce and Hodkinson were appalling in the second half; the Blues’ much-vaunted bench – Andrew Fifita in particular – fizzled; Greg Inglis once again struggled in the centres for Queensland; NSW’s three-quarter line barely fired a shot in attack; despite a bumper crowd, the ANZ Stadium atmosphere left plenty to be desired as the Blues stumbled through the second stanza.
The ugly: While the closeness of the contest made it gripping by default, it was one of the flattest Origins in recent history. There were few clean breaks or big hits and little attacking enterprise – it was safety-first from both sides and pretty dull unless you had a vested interest in the result. Meanwhile, the Blues’ failure to adequately set for a field goal – or find sharpshooter Trent Hodkinson for the one-pointer attempts – was one of the most lamentable gaffes in Origin history.
Sticky’s baffling presser
Ricky Stuart was the only person on the planet who thought his Raiders were hard done by in their 24-12 loss to a super-impressive Broncos outfit on Saturday night, which is why the NRL must hand down a fine for his sub-30 seconds press conference. It only added to Stuart’s entertaining history of train-wreck pressers which have seen him incur over $100,000 worth of fines during a tumultuous 14-season coaching tenure. Ironically, Canberra is enjoying an impressive – and unlikely – resurgence under the maligned ‘Sticky’ in 2015. Despite losing three in a row, the Raiders have been very good in recent weeks and finals footy is still very much on the cards…if their coach can hold it together. And that’s a pretty big if.
Dud scrum call defies logic
Pushing in the scrum has made a comeback in recent seasons – with the Warriors the most successful exponents – and it has added some colour to one of the Rugby League’s problem areas. But Henry Perenara’s ludicrous call to pull up North Queensland’s legitimate tight-head on Saturday night set the Rugby League scrum back a couple of years with one blow of the whistle. Luckily for Perenara, the Cowboys still managed to conjure a match-winning try after the 77th-minute howler as refereeing incompetence almost cost the club victory over Manly for the third time in four seasons.
Cartwright destined for greatness
Penrith tyro Bryce Cartwright could become the game’s dominant forward within a year, displaying Sonny Bill Williams-like qualities as he singlehandedly dragged the Panthers back into Friday night’s derby against Parramatta. The comparison with Uncle John are obvious given his brilliant offloading ability, but the burgeoning backrower has the speed and footwork of a three-quarter, and the ball-playing class of a five-eighth. Still only 20 years old and with just 17 NRL appearances under his belt, Cartwright should be firmly in Laurie Daley’s thoughts ahead of the Blues’ impending do-or-die Origin clashes.
Year of the cover tackle
One of the features of 2015 has been the abundance of miraculous, never-say-die cover tackles, with Tuimoala Lolohea and Jack Wighton producing the most memorable of the season to date. Add Michael Morgan’s brilliant try-saver on boom Manly winger Tom Trbojevic in North Queensland’s dramatic win on Saturday night to the list.
Underachiever of the week
After five wins in their previous six matches – and despite the withdrawal of Queensland fullback Billy Slater – there was little indication the insipid performance Melbourne produced on Monday night was on the cards. The Origin period has been a hefty banana skin in the Storm’s recent campaigns and there were some worrying signs in the 24-2 loss against the Roosters.
Overachiever of the week
Newcastle’s injured brigade of Robbie Rochow and Jarrod Mullen were joined by late withdrawals Jeremy Smith, Kade Snowden and Kurt Gidley for the tough road trip to Auckland, but the ragtag Knights played with plenty of spirit in going down just 24-20 to the Warriors, repeatedly clawing their way back into the match when it seemed a landslide was set to commence. Carlos Tuimavave, on debut for the Knights and pitched into the chief playmaker role after Tyrone Roberts hobbled off in the opening minutes, typified their plucky effort with fine display against his former club.
My new favourite player
Mitch Aubusson is the archetypal underrated player, but has proven his value time and again for the Roosters. The 176-game veteran never has a bad game, whether playing in the backrow or filling in at centre or dummy-half, while he occasionally has an absolute blinder. Monday night’s performance landed in the latter category, producing two superb flick-pass try assists for Shaun Kenny-Dowall and scoring a four-pointer himself. The kind of player every team needs to be successful.
Daniel Alvaro (Eels): Strapping former Queensland Under-18s rep Alvaro muscled his way through an engine-room logjam at Parramatta to secure a debut one day after his 22nd birthday, making four tackles, one hit-up and an error in a six-minute cameo as the Eels upset the Panthers.
Matt Parcell (Broncos): Capitalising on an injury to Kodi Nikorima, 22-year-old hooker Parcell broke through to debut in Canberra on Saturday. He played 27 minutes and impressed with 22 tackles and two dummy-half runs in the Broncos’ gritty win.
…Martin Bella: Ryan Hinchcliffe came up with an embarrassing blunder in the opening stages of the second half at Allianz that did his hopes of a NSW call-up in Robbie Farah’s stead no favours, playing the ball in the wrong direction.
OH NO!Have you ever seen someone play the ball backwards?#NRLRoostersStorm Highlights: http://bit.ly/R12Game7HLS#NRL
Posted by NRL – National Rugby League on Monday, June 1, 2015
The commentators clambered to recall the Martin Bella incident in the 1994 Origin series opener, when the hapless ‘Munster’ came up with an almost identical faux pas in what proved to be the last of his 21 appearances for Queensland. In fairness to Bella, he realised his error before letting the ball go while Hinchcliffe followed it through to a humiliating conclusion.
…Jason Stevens: The ‘wedgie’ was a blight on the code that rapidly disappeared after the retirement of long-serving St George and Cronulla prop Jason Stevens. But it made an eye-watering comeback on Friday night when Parramatta’s Tim Mannah produced a variation on the atomic wedgie – tearing Bryce Cartwright’s underwear out of his shorts and leaving the shredded remnants on the head of Eels teammate Junior Paulo’s head.
Form Origin teams
Each week, we name the State of Origin line-ups that would take the field if form was the only criteria.
NEW SOUTH WALES
8. Dylan Napa