Forwards stand tall, spine brilliant in Origin massacre
The ageing Queensland team complained that the brash young New South Wales outfit lacked respect after the loss in game two at the MCG. The Maroons went out and reclaimed that respect – and the State of Origin shield – with the biggest victory in the concept’s 36-season history, destroying the Blues 52-6 in the decider at Suncorp Stadium.
And it was the under-pressure old guard who stood tallest for the resounding victors. The spine of Inglis, Thurston, Cronk and Smith were in vintage touch, while the maligned engine-room veterans battered their cocky, younger counterparts into submission in attack and defence.
Embarrassed in Melbourne, the Maroons’ forwards opened the decider with rabid intent and barely relented for the entire 80 minutes. Under-fire veterans Matt Scott, Nate Myles, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday and Jacob Lillyman got on top of the Aaron Woods-led Blues pack early and kept the foot on the throat, with even the introduction of much-hyped enforcer David Klemmer unable to stem the Maroon tide.
It was a triumph for Parker, in particular, who took out man-of-the-match honours and the Wally Lewis Medal after speaking out against the hyper-aggressive Klemmer’s game two antics.
It also unequivocally proved that form and tenacity is far more important than birth certificates when it comes to Origin football. The ‘old’ Queensland side simply wasn’t good enough in Melbourne, but when they turned it on, they blew a stunned NSW off the park.
Where to now for the Blues? The severity of the loss has put their cause back a couple of years at least; their 2014 triumph merely an aberration rather than the beginning of a new order in Rugby League’s showcase event. While their oft-maligned halves were ordinary and their three-quarter line awful, the Blues’ super-confident pack has to shoulder the bulk of the blame for one of the most insipid team displays ever in an Origin match.
Origin careers saved and stuffed
Scott, Thaiday, Myles and Lillyman, and even Cameron Smith and Parker, were potentially facing the end of their Origin careers with a loss in the decider. But every Maroons player earned the opportunity to line up in the 2016 series opener after all contributing magnificently in one of the most comprehensive performances in Origin history.
On the flip side, several Blues have marked their representative cards for good. Halves Mitchell Pearce and Trent Hodkinson were ineffective and are no chance of being retained, ditto Will Hopoate for his shocking display on the wing, while James Tamou and veterans Ryan Hoffman and Beau Scott will be lucky to get another run at Origin level. Bringing in Michael Ennis for his experience and composure was understandable, but he was a non-factor.
Josh Dugan, Paul Gallen, Woods and Klemmer were the only NSW players who approached adequate in the decider avalanche, and the likes of Josh Jackson, Boyd Cordner, Trent Merrin, Michael Jennings and the Morris boys will need to produce the goods at club level to stay in the side in 2016.
Ghosts of 2000 finally vanquished
Although the 3-0 series loss in 2000 – and in particular the 56-16 shellacking in the dead-rubber – was a turning point for the Maroons and they’ve enjoyed many, many triumphs since, the record-shattering nature of that defeat still cuts deep for Queensland fans.
But those dark days can be put to rest after Queensland set a new mark for the biggest winning margin in Origin history with their 46-point triumph, while notching a half-century for the first time was also a symbolic moment for the state.
The Maroons’ previous biggest winning margin was 30 points, which they achieved three times. Thurston set new Queensland records for most goals (9) and points (18), and would have equalled Ryan Girdler’s mark of 10 goals – which he landed in the 2000 demolition – if Justin Hodges hadn’t been granted the obligatory retiree conversion attempt.
Smith maintains dignity and integrity
After being unfairly dragged into the furore surrounding60 Minutes’ Alex McKinnon story on the eve of one of the biggest matches of his career, Queensland captain Cameron Smith responded the way champions invariably do. The cool-headed veteran, who equalled Darren Lockyer’s all-time Origin record by making his 36th appearance in the decider, was magnificent for his dominant team.
And he was well within his rights to boycott interviews with Channel Nine after being painted as a villain without being given the right of reply. Smith’s silent approach was the smart way to go about a situation in which there are no winners, and he will no doubt address the issue publicly in his own time. How long the impasse with Nine continues is an intriguing sidelight, but Smith should be commended for taking the moral high ground after being blindsided by a delicate predicament. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Queensland fan who brandished a tasteless #riseforcameron banner at Suncorp Stadium.
Was Rise for Cameron sign bad taste?: Bad taste or good humour.The former, unfortunately. Queensland were clos… http://t.co/DB6VyG1jvx
— Rugby League (@RugbyLeagueFeed) July 8, 2015
Emerging from the Origin malaise
With Origin done and dusted, attention now turns back to the premiership and a mad nine-week scramble for places in the NRL finals series. The landscape is significantly different to before the representative program. Melbourne and St George Illawarra – co-leaders after 10 rounds – have been the high-profile sliders, while Brisbane and North Queensland have consolidated the top two positions and will be very hard to run down.
The Roosters, Rabbitohs, Warriors and Bulldogs have also surged to shape as likely finalists and genuine top-four hopes. Improbable trio Penrith, Cronulla and Parramatta have risen significantly during the Origin period to stay in the race, while the fortunes of Canberra (despite playing well on the whole) and woeful pair Newcastle and Wests Tigers have plummeted.
It shapes as a fascinating conclusion to an ultra-tight regular season, but there’s no question the Origin schedule creates an uneven playing field and disrupts almost one-third of the premiership campaign.
Saints and Storm on the brink
St George Illawarra and Melbourne will be the two most desperate teams in Round 18 after hitting the skids alarmingly over the last month as the Origin drain took hold. The Dragons have lost four on the trot, while the Storm have won just one of their last five as both sides descended into a five-club logjam in fourth spot.
The Saints’ last win was a 42-6 thrashing of Cronulla in Round 12, but their return derby clash with the Sharks now shapes as a match to rescue their campaign. Meanwhile, the Billy Slater-less Storm makes the arduous trek to Auckland in an attempt to prove there is still life in their 2015 campaign.
Cartwright’s climb continues
What would the Blues have given to have Penrith backrower Bryce Cartwright’s game-breaking talents in their ranks during last night’s decider? The youngster was sensational once again in Penrith’s superb 20-6 upset of South Sydney, making 29 tackles, 22 runs for 209 metres and astounding with his freakish skill-set. It’s been said here before, but the rangy tyro could be regarded as the NRL’s best forward within a year – and he is a key factor keeping the injury-hit Panthers’ hopes alive in 2015.
“I’ve been watching Bryce Cartwright play league for 15 years. Tonight is his break out game. He’s doing things I’ve never seen him do” – MG
— Triple M NRL (@TripleM_NRL) July 3, 2015
Underachiever of the week
No contest – the shell-shocked NSW Blues. Never has a side promised so much and delivered so little in the Origin arena. To be trounced by a record margin in a decider, when motivation should be at its pinnacle, must be simply gut-wrenching for the Blues and their supporters.
Overachiever of the week
It’s hard to go past the Panthers, who strangled the Rabbitohs into submission with a Rabbitohs-like performance. Like last year, the Panthers’ injury list is big but their hearts are even bigger; don’t count them out of top-eight contention just yet.
My new favourite player
Penrith prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard is the forgotten man of Dally M Rookie of the Year discussions. In the face of Souths’ big, imposing pack, the City Origin rep was magnificent with 13 hit-ups and 148 metres tallied. The 21-year-old has emphatically grasped the opportunity to start with Brent Kite sidelined and has been a real unsung hero for the plucky Panthers.
Yaw Kiti Glymin (Dragons): The youngster with the eye-catching name made a sound debut on the wing, racking up 12 runs (including five from dummy-half) for 76 metres in 45 minutes on the paddock.
Luke Page (Dragons): The much-hyped wrecking ball and PNG international played 12 minutes on debut, notching 11 tackles and two hit-ups.
…Hazem El Masri: Johnathan Thurston’s spellbinding goalkicking performance in the decider – curling four conversions through from the sideline in a faultless display – brought back fond memories of mercurial Bulldogs sharpshooter El Masri at his peak.
NSW 2016 crystal ball
The hopes of many Blues contenders will rise and subside between now and next year’s series opener, but after Wednesday’s blowout we’ve taken an early stab at what the NSW line-up could look like in 2016 as Laurie Daley and co. pick up the pieces of a shattered campaign.
1 Josh Dugan
2 Josh Mansour
3 Dylan Walker
4 James Roberts
5 Brett Morris
6 Blake Austin
7 Adam Reynolds
8 Aaron Woods
9 Nathan Peats
10 Andrew Fifita
11 Tyson Frizell
12 Bryce Cartwright
13 Josh Jackson
14 David Klemmer
15 Tepai Moeroa
16 Tryone Peachey
17 Joel Thompson