‘Dead-rubber’ proves its worth: The predictable calls to do away with Origin III contests when the series has already been decided were emphatically put in their place by Queensland and New South Wales last night. The intensity from both sides and the defensive commitment on show – particularly from the Blues during the first half – were out of the top drawer, and certainly were not the hallmarks of two teams with nothing to play for. Besides being a huge cash cow for the NRL and the players involved, the so-called ‘dead-rubbers’ have consistently been one of the best games of those respective seasons.
Maroons not a spent force: Queensland used the occasion to pay homage to its recently broken eight-year dynasty, and ultimately that’s what the night turned out to be – a convincing 32-8 win built on determination, patience and flashes of brilliance. The team isn’t getting any younger and quality depth is a serious concern, but the Maroons proved that – man for man – they still have the Blues’ measure. Of course, there was much less at stake, but Queensland’s performance was easily the most comprehensive by any side in the 2014 series. Cooper Cronk was superb, underlining how different the series could have been had he not broken his arm 10 minutes into game one; ditto man-of-the-match Corey Parker, who missed the second game with a facial fracture. Although the Blues deserved their triumph, the first two encounters were only a bounce of the ball from falling Queensland’s way, and the nucleus of this ageing squad will be retained in 2015 – and will give NSW a mighty challenge for its crown.
Reality check for Blues: NSW’s defensive effort in the first half was the equal of their monster goal-line display in the second half of the series opener. But in a performance reminiscent of many of their so-near-yet-so-far losses during the previous eight winless campaigns, the Blues couldn’t stay with Queensland for 80 minutes. The dead-rubber occasion offers some explanation; NSW’s job was effectively already done. But that is a cheap excuse for a heavy defeat. While Jarryd Hayne, Josh Dugan, Paul Gallen and Robbie Farah are out-and-out match-winners, the Maroons still have the edge when it comes to superstar players coming up with superstar plays. NSW will rightfully bask in its series triumph – arguably the greatest feat in its Origin history. But despite the euphoric success achieved in the opening two games, Laurie Daley will unfortunately not have the luxury of handing walk-up starts to the victorious squad of 2014. The likes of Daniel Tupou and Josh Reynolds will need to maintain excellent club form to line up in the 2015 series opener, while several other players were well below par in game three. Daley’s selection of James McManus and a clearly hampered Josh Morris should also come under some scrutiny.
Give ’em the shield: Paul Gallen received the bittersweet honour of hoisting the Origin shield after losing a dead-rubber in enemy territory (ensuring two rounds of furious jeering from the Queensland crowd after he also won the Wally Lewis Medal) – the first captain since Andrew Johns in 2003 to be forced to do so. Common sense will surely prevail in future: if a team wraps up the series in game two at home, present them with the shield then! The NRL has alluded to vague logistical issues in doing this, without giving specifics. But subjecting the victorious Blues to a hollow presentation in front of a disrespectful crowd after being thumped by 24 points was a poor look for the game’s showpiece.
JT finally catches a break: The form of Thurston in the first two games was a microcosm of Queensland’s series – the class is obviously still there, but slightly off the pace, disjointed and bereft of luck. Continuing his run of outs, Thurston – in his 30th straight Origin – made two handling errors, was caught on the last twice (bombing a try on one occasion) and threw a pass over the sideline. But he finally found something special for the highlight reel, producing a magnificent pass for Darius Boyd’s key try, while he finished with six goals from six attempts.
Judiciary fallout: Canterbury, Souths and the Gold Coast will feel the brunt of another physical Origin contest after several incidents incurred judiciary charges. Josh Reynolds’ dumb shoulder-charge will see him get the suspension he deserved after the series opener, Ben Te’o will miss a game for a late and high challenge on Trent Hodkinson, and Greg Bird will miss another chunk of the Titans’ season after another dangerous throw – ironically on club-mate Nate Myles. Meanwhile, Myles’ raised forearm, which caught Bird in the throat shortly afterwards, will not result in time on the sidelines with an early guilty plea.
Records fall by the wayside: Several players etched their names deeper into Origin history, while the match and series resulted in a number of anomalies:
- Darius Boyd’s try brought him level with Greg Inglis on 15 Origin tries, the most in the concept’s history. The 2014 series was just the second in nine campaigns Inglis failed to notch a try.
- Johnathan Thurston kicked six goals to extend his all-time record – both of which he assumed from Mal Meninga in game two – to 76 goals and 174 points. He has kicked at a remarkable 80 per cent in his Origin career.
- NSW became just the fourth team to be outscored across the three games despite winning the series, posting 18 points less than Queensland – a new record for a series victor. NSW scored less points in 1993 (four points) and 1997 (three points) but won the series, while Queensland did the same in 2007 (three points). Interestingly, all four series featured a dead-rubber game three.
- The Blues posted their lowest series total with just 26 points across three games, beating their previous record of 28 when being swept 3-0 in 1995 and losing the 2008 series 2-1. Queensland still holds the record with just 20 points in 1990.
1.Billy Slater: Was well-contained and only ran for 90 metres, but ran a beautiful line to score a vital try and was mistake-free at the back. 7
2. Darius Boyd: Another outstanding effort from the ultimate wing professional; scored a decisive try and made 144 metres with the ball in hand. 8
3. Greg Inglis: Terrorised the Blues’ right edge early on but faded into the background thereafter and finished with only eight carries. 6.5
4. Justin Hodges: Troubled NSW with his trademark elusive running and served up two superb try assists with deft passes. Shaded by Parker as man-of-the-match. 8.5
5. Will Chambers: Tremendous debut. Copped plenty of punishment but was as willing as any player on the field. His 164 metres was behind only Corey Parker. Destined for a long career at this level. 8
6. Johnathan Thurston: The first hour summed up his entire series, bustled into mistakes and caught twice on the last. Was dangerous running the ball, however, and served up a sensational pass for Boyd’s try, while he was flawless in six shots at goal. 6
7. Cooper Cronk: Put the challenge of Daly Cherry-Evans for his rep spots on the back-burner, pulling the strings in a wonderful return display – how different the series could have been if not for his broken arm. Finished with a deserved try. 8
8. Jacob Lillyman: Consistent as always, making 21 tackles and 11 hit-ups. More than up to Origin standard. 7
9. Cameron Smith: Made a team-high 41 tackles and ran more than we have seen in years, while also trailing to score the only try of the first half. 7.5
10. Nate Myles: The Maroons’ best player across the three games along with Hodges, Myles was at it again with 32 tackles and 14 runs for 113 metres; one of the state’s best-ever forwards. 7.5
11. Aidan Guerra: The Rooster’s form has been one of the best things to emerge from the series for Queensland. Expertly punched through gaps to score a try and set one up in the latter stages, while he made 24 tackles and 101 metres. 8
12. Sam Thaiday: Worked himself to a standstill with 35 tackles (no misses) and 14 carries for 113 metres. A great comeback after missing the series opener with injury. 7.5
13. Corey Parker: Incredible numbers – 30 tackles, 23 runs for 213 metres and eight offloads – and all of it quality. The Mr Perpetual Motion of the NRL era, and a clear man-of-the-match. Emphatically showed what the Maroons were missing in game two. 9
14. Daly Cherry-Evans: Free of the No.7 responsibilities, DCE made a fine contribution off the bench, the highlight being a magnificent break and astute kick to orchestrate the first try. 7
15. Ben Te’o: A late hit on Hodkinson incurred first points and a judiciary charge, but Te’o’s aggressive ball-running was a key feature in his 33 minutes on the paddock. 7
16. Matt Gillett: Received only 25 minutes and was very quiet, making just three runs. Busy in defence though, racking up 13 tackles. 5
17. David Taylor: The hapless ‘Coal Train’ has surely played his last representative match, ruining two tackle-busting runs with errors at the end of them while the match was still in the balance. He was immediately hooked by Mal Meninga. Stats of nine tackles and seven runs for 86 metres in 18 minutes are handy, but too much of a risk in tight games. 4
NEW SOUTH WALES
1. Jarryd Hayne: Herculean in defence during the first half and exploded a couple of times with the ball during the second stanza. Must have gone close to collecting the Wally Lewis Medal as player of the series. 8
2. James McManus: Big efforts in defence early, but was largely anonymous and finished with just seven runs for 40 metres. The honest Knight’s Origin career will finish with three games for three losses; the Blues should have blooded Josh Mansour. 5.5
3. Josh Dugan: The Blues’ most dangerous ball-runner, Dugan made 107 metres and chimed into a set-play brilliantly to score their only try. 7
4. Josh Morris: Apparently rushed back too soon, running the ball just three times and appearing tentative throughout. 5
5. Daniel Tupou: Third straight game doing little wrong but failing to stand out. The jury is still out on whether he is a long-term Origin proposition. 5.5
6. Josh Reynolds: Missed eight tackles, ran the ball twice for 14 metres and conceded two penalties to go with his customary niggling and theatrics; one of the worst performances ever by an Origin half. 4
7. Trent Hodkinson: Solid but quiet, Hodkinson struggled to make his imprint on the game. A disappointing way to end a landmark series for the likeable Bulldog. 5.5
8. Paul Gallen: What more is there to be said? His 36 tackles were behind only Farah and Smith, and his 17 runs were second only to Parker. A genuine Origin legend. 8
9. Robbie Farah: Made a game-high 52 tackles, but didn’t quite live up to his ‘I am the equal of Cam Smith’ billing, failing to have as much impact with the ball as the Queensland skipper. 7
10. Aaron Woods: Nowhere near as influential as in the first two games, making only 48 metres from seven runs. Strong in defence with 20 tackles. Could have put his stamp on a Kangaroos jumper but didn’t. 6
11. Beau Scott: Did little with the ball but made some incredible defensive plays. Great series from a player that was viewed as something of a selection gamble. 7.5
12. Ryan Hoffman: Superb throughout the series and last night was no different, making 32 tackles and 128 metres from 13 runs in another 80-minute display. 7.5
13. Greg Bird: Eventful night and was as involved as ever, but did not quite have the desired impact. 6.5
14. James Tamou: Ordinary, hitting the ball up just five times in 34 minutes on the paddock. His place in the Test side must come under scrutiny if he does not dominate for the Cowboys for the rest of the season. 4.5
15. Boyd Cordner: Was one of the Blues’ more dangerous ball-runners and made 28 tackles (no misses) in 42 minutes. Quality. 7
16. Trent Merrin: Afforded just 19 minutes, Merrin didn’t exactly make them count. Made 11 tackles but missed three, and ran the ball five times for 43 metres. 5.5
17. Luke Lewis: Solid but didn’t make too much of an impression in 33 minutes of game time, finishing with 18 tackles and just four carries. 5.5
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