Following their blistering triumph in the series opener, New South Wales were swift to usher in a new era. As we quickly learnt, that celebration was premature. Queensland were right back on the horse, doling out lessons you’d hope the Blues would have absorbed by now.
It places NSW in a precarious position — a series that was firmly in their grasp started to slip away with the dramatic loss in Game 2, an opportunity to close out the series on home turf blown in a second-half collapse that was simply indefensible.
Now, they’re going to have to repeat the dramatic conquest of Game 1, a feat that was shocking first time round, and will be much harder come the decider – even if the Maroons are without some of their trusted soldiers.
Whilst Game 2 is undoubtedly a painful memory, there are still plenty of positives that should spur the team’s confidence moving forward. Though the series is tied, NSW have been the better team for all but 20 minutes of the series. That hurts, because they failed to convert that momentum into what should have been a surefire victory, but is an important factor to consider when constructing the game-plan for the third match. The Blues have to change very little — they’ve already found the formula that will trouble Queensland, and know the exact method that will lead to victory.
It starts in the middle, where the tide has irrefutably turned. The Blues forward pack has easily found ways to open the game up; first, in the demolition job that lay waste to an ageing Queensland pack in the first bout, and again in the second encounter, albeit using the mobility and skill to puncture holes in the heart of the defence.
Andrew Fifita won’t reproduce his spectacular performance of the opener, and David Klemmer and Jake Trbojevic can’t be depended on to turn the game on a dime as they did most recently, but as a collective, there isn’t much to suggest Queensland’s pack has what it takes to restrain the Blues’ rampaging forwards, let alone win the middle.
NSW have owned the middle third for the entirety of the series, and let the game slip away when they failed to persist through those areas as Game 2 progressed. The Maroons’ bigs will be better off with more time to gel, but with both continuity and form squarely in the Blues’ corner, this is a chance to stake their claim for dominance.
At the very least, if they are any chance of winning, they need to set a clean platform for the halves to work with. And there may be no two players whose reputation and legacy hinge more on the outcome of Wednesday’s decider.
Both Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney excel in the open field, evidenced by several of their bigger plays in the series. It’s in orchestrating the offence that their flaws become more transparent. Many were underwhelmed by the job the pair did, shouldering plenty of the blame from the loss.
Pearce’s erratic legacy has been well-documented. His series so far has been painfully on brand — fans of his game have seen enough to warrant his selection, detractors point to the obvious holes in his armour as unmissable weak spots that will inevitably be exposed, the case in last game’s collapse.
Pearce is undoubtedly the best No.7 in NSW. Justifying another go around in the jersey should NSW fail after such a momentous lead would be awfully difficult. His Origin legacy, and his Origin career, will go on the line with the shield come Wednesday night.
If Pearce is to be moved on, it would surely end the spell of Maloney, who at 31 may not have many elite years left in the tank. Finishing the series with the shield will cap off an underrated run, solidifying his position as one of modern rugby league’s best winners. A loss may bring an unfitting end to his rep career.
— originbetting (@originbetting) July 11, 2017
Players are often told to play every game like it’s their last. For these two, and possibly more, it may not be that hard to pretend.
If Game 1 represented the changing of the guard, Game 2 was a stark reminder of Queensland’s mental edge over the Blues. The rolling momentum was halted and a trademark Maroons victory separated a new dynasty from a return to Suncorp staring the barrel of another missed opportunity.
The task is now simple, and one win separates NSW from finally getting over the hump following a decade of devastating losses and truly ushering in a new era. One loss would represent lowest point of them all, and heads might roll. The stakes are high enough being an Origin decider; throw in the context of recent Blues history, and more than the shield is on the line on Wednesday night.