Game I of the 2014 State of Origin series is almost here. Buckle up, sports fans.
With kick off imminent, it has been notably quiet on the media front. In recent times we’ve been subjected to intense media duels between the two states. There are a blend of factors that could have contributed to this silence.
It could be because Laurie Daly and his Blues decided to hold their camp behind closed doors. It could be because enthusiasts are simply outraged by Queensland Rugby League’s abrupt spike in Origin ticket prices [SIDE NOTE TO NRL: Stop being greedy. As of right now, the 100th State of Origin game isn’t even sold out; it’s ludicrous! You’ve infuriated a heavy amount of Suncorp patrons and rugby league fans. If you don’t decide to halve ticket prices in order to pack out the stadium, or even if you do and irritate those who have already spent a large amount on tickets, fans and players alike are going to be livid. Greedy, greedy manoeuvre]. Or it could be that everyone’s just holding his or her breath until we get an outcome. At which point we’re forced to passionately brag or critique our team’s performance.
If you are at all concerned over this calm atmosphere, don’t be. As soon as Game I kicks off Suncorp will turn into a hotbed of hate.
This is my first Origin series as a resident of NSW, and the build-up has been drastically different to that of QLD. Nonetheless, it’s the same old stories and predictions from both flanks.
North of the Tweed, Queenslanders arrogantly refute any negative talk by rattling off superstar after superstar, while Blues’ supporters clutch at straws as they persist that the Maroons are over the hill and how it’s ultimately their time after eight gruelling years.
NSW have been thrown their longest odds ever for an Origin match at Suncorp Stadium ($2.85). The mass of Blues’ fanatics can’t quite wrap their head around why, whereas the ‘Sunshine State’ deems the betting agencies to be spot on.
Can you really fault the TAB?
The Blues are introducing their sixteenth halves combination in nine years, one of whom (Hodkinson) is yet to experience an Origin arena, let alone an Origin arena in Queensland. The other, Josh Reynolds, has seen just two games at the apex level whilst warming the bench. NSW haven’t tasted a series victory in the last eight attempts. They’ve won just twice from their last ten trips to Suncorp Stadium; both of those were dead rubbers. Captain Paul Gallen and vice-captain Robbie Farah have had recent stints on the sidelines through injury, while Laurie Daley has made seven changes to the Blues side. Greg Bird, who has been in devastating form for the Titans, will miss out due to suspension. [SIDE NOTE: This is a substantial blow – Bird is Origin, Origin is Bird; he’s been arguably the Blues’ greatest player over the last few series – he is irreplaceable for NSW. Gallen and Bird are a dynamic duo. Neither take a backwards step and are hands down the heart and soul of the Blues]. Another big body in Andrew Fifita will join Bird on the sideline due to an ankle injury. And Luke Lewis has played just two games all season after returning from a shoulder injury he suffered at the World Cup last year.
On the contrary – this Maroons team has been widely labelled the greatest of all time.
Now hold on a minute. Just before you diehard (and irritating) Blues’ fanatics (Oliver Gill and Stuart Longworth) get defensive and begin outrageously voicing your opinion:
“The Maroons are so old, they’re over the hill, and this is our time”
Why alter something that works extremely well? Record breaking well! If you are onto a winning formula in any aspect of life, don’t you wring that sh*t to dry? If you said no, you’re an idiot. Phil Jackson didn’t demote Michael Jordan to the bench after securing his first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth NBA championship.
“QLD selected the NRL’s best fullback in the centres! How dumb! Billy Slater cannot catch a high ball and has been horrible this year”
Greg Inglis is the all-time try scorer in State of Origin history with 15, and guess what? He’s scored every single one of those from centre or wing. When you have a fullback dilemma such as the Maroons, shifting Billy to the wing and shoving GI to fullback is absurd. If you’re thinking: “Well that’s what I would do”, ask yourself why? Let me get this straight. Pretend you’re Mal Meninga, you’ve won the last eight series in a row with Slater at fullback and Inglis up front, and your genius idea is to throw Billy on the wing where he hasn’t played in years, consequently altering your successful blueprint? Right …
Slater might not have hit the ground running at the launch of the NRL season, but Billy’s tallied up man-of-the-match awards in his previous two outings. In those two games he recorded a combined 340 metres, 14 tackle busts, 5 linebreaks, 8 tackles and 4 tries. One of those matches was against his ‘rival’ Greg Inglis. Whether you base your selection criteria on form or loyalty, Billy has the edge.
“Hodkinson and Reynolds are made for Origin and love pressure.”
This could well and truly be a factual statement, but it cannot be determined until each get at least two or three Origin starts under their belt. Origin is a clear step up from club or international level. Fact is, the Bulldogs’ combination boast a total of two games at Origin level, while QLD’s Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston have chalked up a whopping 39 Origin caps.
I guarantee Laurie Daley would rather the option to choose a halves combo that have played in at least one Origin series. There’s a purpose behind Daly’s initial selection of Mitchell Pearce, before his late night episode; it certainly wasn’t based on his previous Origin performances, but rather experience on the big stage.
[SIDE NOTE: I won’t harp on about Mitchell’s omission and how it is a blessing in disguise for NSW – there is endless material].
According to Fox Sports, after 10 rounds of the NRL Thurston and Cronk are equal first in try assist with 15 each. Whereas the untraditional Bulldogs’ halves have a combined for just 20 (Hodkinson 9 and Reynolds 11).
A substantial point of difference will be in each side’s preparation. Especially for each team’s five and six.
For the Maroons, camp will focus on not becoming complacent and fundamental issues. Cronk and JT would have strolled onto the paddock, picked up a Steeden, and QLD’s first training session would have begun. Each player already recognises their place in the side, their specific role and where they need to be.
The Blues, however, had a tougher task. Implementing a newfangled halves partnership in any team is no easy feat. It’s like hiring a new employee, or band member; it takes time to adapt. The quicker you can adapt, the greater your reputation will become.
I’ve got no doubt Trent and Josh have worked harder than anyone in both camps this week. From the get-go, these two were forced to stamp their authority over the Blues so their new colleagues develop confidence and trust in their ability. If they haven’t instilled that, then the Blues have already lost.
The betting companies aren’t just basing this on the match itself; a bundle of elements are in place, elements that have undone players in the past.
It’s about learning the ins and outs of players that you’ve never taken the field with before. Do you take the firm or gentle approach with someone to get the best out of them? Are they thick-skinned or sensitive? Do they over run the second man play? Should you make your run earlier? How quick are they off the mark? Should we plan to kick on the third because of that? Can they play before the line?
“But the Blues’ halves have won three games by one point this season; they are ready!”
That’s cute. Remember this?
Where was I? Oh, yeah, NSW followers getting defensive. By no means am I suggesting that the Maroons have locked up a ninth consecutive series’ victory. That’s just stupid. It doesn’t matter who you are, no one is confident heading into an Origin. That’s an entitlement of Origin; another aspect that makes is so incredibly epic. It would just be arduous to give NSW shorter odds, plain and simple.
Reynolds and Hodkinson could very well come out and steer the ship for a NSW victory, and that would be a true testament to their talent; they’d see a swift rise in NRL’s player rankings. Nonetheless, there are only a handful of people that haven’t allowed the Origin dome affect them; just ask Justin Hodges, Mitchell Pearce (a lot), Nathan Merritt or Aaron Woods.
Game plans can well and truly get abandoned once a player steps onto a ruthless Origin pitch (just like Nathan Tinkler forgetting to pay his staff). Particularly for fresh, inexperienced players; hence why QLD are so loyal to their veterans. NSW has an allegiance program as well. If Gallen, Hayne or Farah were injured all season, or had their worst start to an NRL campaign at club level, Laurie wouldn’t even consider dropping them. Players of that calibre are vital for a victory at Origin level. It’s just that QLD has more of these quality players who have solicited their status at the State of Origin level.
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