Thursday 14 December 2017 / 03:29 PM

The late mail from State of Origin I

What A Game

 

Again fans were treated to an electrifying duel that dismissed any suggestion that Queensland’s eight-in-a-row has squandered the drive and passion throughout the State of Origin arena. The day following Origin I my brother said: “While I love QLD winning, the element that excites me about Origin is that you are pretty much guaranteed to see an outstanding game of rugby league. It delivered. The second half was amazing”.

 

It delivered big time.

 

World War III took place in front of a 52,111 strong Maroon army at Suncorp Stadium. All were out for blood; my brother, his roommate Heath and myself were among those eager for a win and Paul Gallen’s head (well, maybe I was the only one thirsty for that) – and even more so when we locked eyes on the two overweight Bluessupporters in their usual seats just behind us. We have history. It could be the sky-blue jerseys, or the fact they cant hold their booze, or maybe its the ever-present layer of grease on their skin. Either way, they dont like us and we sure as hell dont like them. These two grubs make me ill just by looking at them. It’s like youre sitting near a plump Greg Bird and Paul Gallen as they lock themselves in for an alcoholic-fuelled evening – nothing good can come of that.

 

Jarryd Hayne

 

That. Was. Phenomenal. It was truly a remarkable performance. Those who witnessed it live at Suncorp should consider themselves very fortunate. We might never see a greater display by a fullback in the Origin coliseum. I cant remember the last time we saw a player control such a high-pressured game from the fullback position. Every time Hayne laid his hands on the Steeden I was legitimately concerned.

 

Two components of their game plan involved: Hayne touching the ball as much as possible; and attacking Johnathan Thurston. JT is going to need counseling for those nightmares where he is repeatedly getting run over by a train with Hayne’s face on it. Thurston should contact Ben Ross and find out where he gets treatment for his Gorden Tallis night terrors.

 

From the NSW first set of six, Hayne set the tone and ran directly at JT. The Blues first try came down that right flank. Hayne received the ball and JT’s feeble attempt to grab him was easily dismissed. Peter Sterling said it perfectly: “Hayne uses his speed and explosiveness”. The fullback fended off Thurston, forcing Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd to scramble in, and the Morris twins did the rest.

Hayne then exposed JT and the left QLD fringe again when he stormed over for the Blues’ second four-pointer. Too big, too strong, too bloody good. Jarryd made contact and some fundamental football (pump your legs after contact) put him in a position where momentum carried him over. It was a double-movement decision that, in reality, could very well have gone either way. In saying that, only a player who possesses Hayne’s raw strength and flair can get that ball down.

The real cherry on top came midway through the second period. QLD were making up for their 39 percent possession in the first half as they unleashed themselves in a relentless attacking display that lasted for a solid twenty minutes. Credit where credit is due: NSW were gallant. They made an Origin record nine try-saving tackles in the game. For me, Hayne’s offensive in these decisive moments is what really impressed onlookers. As I said, QLD were dictating the game with a barrage of offense, but they were also ripping in on defense. Line speed was at its peak, effort was at an all-time high; NSW were in strife. Hayne went into stud-mode.

NSW were being held hostage in their half, and some how, some way, Hayne broke the line. He shuffled his feet and squeezed through a foot-wide gap between Nate Myles and Chris McQueen. A brilliant tackle from a rejuvenated Billy Slater eventually pulled down the Blues’ fullback. Slater’s try-saving tackle forced the ball loose for QLD to re-gather. Nonetheless, pressure was released.

Hayne wasn’t done.

The Maroons persisted with their ambush. NSW were struggling to make meters – heck they were struggling to make it out of their own 20! On two consecutive fifth tackles, Hayne slid into dummy half, scooped up the ball, and ran 10 meters before unleashing with his massive right boot, hitting grass and copping a beating after the kick on both occasions. In a club game, Hayne’s team would have received a penalty for the defense making contact with a kicker, but it’s Origin – let that shit ride!

This standard of composure Jarryd demonstrated is an aspect witnessed for the first time at Origin level. He went to another gear, a gear higher and much more impressive than any game at the back end of his Dally M season.

Reckon he’d switch to QLD? We got away with stealing GI – it’s worth a shot yeah?

Nate Myles

From the Blues’ top player to the Maroons. Nate was a mongrel. There’s no more suitable word to describe his game. Myles steamrolled his way into my list of top three favourite current Queensland players – behind JT and GI. The number ten was no doubt the toughest and scariest troop in that brutal war zone. If he defecated in my hallway, I wouldn’t have the balls to ask him to clean it up. Would you?

According to live.nrlstats.com Myles posted 122 meters from 15 runs, one offload and 39 of the most vicious tackles you’ll ever witness.

During Queensland’s second half onslaught (mentioned above), Nate led by example and was a vital ingredient that kept them in the Blues’ half. Because of his inhuman ferociousness on Wednesday, he receives a free pass for his game-high eight missed tackles – one of which led to the pressure-relieving line break by Hayne.

You could see that Nate wanted every loose ball and every hit-up possible. But really he just wanted was to impose himself on the defensive end. His complete disregard for his own body was majestic. He literally launched himself into anything that came his way. Nate’s unyielding performance was his best Origin game to date.

 

The only downside of having Myles in the front row is that he isn’t on the field for the full 80 minutes. His unrelenting effort and extra workload up front led to those 8 missed tackles. It’s also no coincidence that Queensland played their best footy while Nate was on the field – first 15 and last 25 minutes.

Paul Gallen

 

Year after year this guy proves he’s one of the most dominant and reliable players in State of Origin history. It burns me to say, but Paul Gallen is an unreal footballer. Gallen’s unsuccessful career of ZERO series wins in the State of Origin arena helps me – a Queensland fan – sleep at night. Everyone north of the Tweed incontrovertibly loves his failure of winning on the big stage. The scary thing is, he thrives off our hatred. Gal’s 22 runs for 170 metres, 33 tackles, two tackle busts and two offloads were incredible (live.nrlstats.com). He leads from the front. Instead of just copping the contact like most players, Gallen’s forte and power means he has the gift required to make metres after contact. All without peptides (allegedly)!

He’s even learned to shut his mouth – on and off the field. Last Wednesday he spoke to the referees like a normal human being. His demeanor when addressing the officials is much calmer and more polite than we are used to. He’s not telling/yelling at them, he’s wisely chatting with respect. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar – it only took Gallen eight series’ losses to figure that one out.

Off the field Laurie Daley has surely had an influence on his approach to the media. His ‘two-heads’ comment was nothing. That’s the only thing QLD had to attack him on. No more taking the bait for Gallen. Now, when Paul interacts with the media, his answers revolve around the Blues’ preparation.

 

Maybe he traded in his peptides for Xanex?

Cooper Cronk & Daly Cherry-Evans

A momentum shift for the ages. Queensland had preached how they needed to get off to a great start after numerous slow starts in recent eras. They did just that. Mal’s Maroons had purpose from the get-go, but when Cooper Cronk was forced off with a broken arm, structure went out the window.

Daly Cherry-Evans was thrown into gauntlet and wasn’t prepared to play his customary halfback role. DEC lost his way early and Mal must take some responsibility for not prepping for the worst. Presently Manly’s number 7 is arguably the best player in the NRL; it’s an absolute luxury having the capability of nursing him on your bench. You could tell that Daly had been practicing to inject himself in the backrow. He wasn’t mentally primed for the role QLD unexpectedly required him to play. That was early on; he came together in the second half, nonetheless. Mal’s blunder of walking DCE through the paces at halfback during camp meant QLD were on the back foot when Cronk disappeared up the tunnel.

Cooper Cronk didn’t get to where he is today with raw talent – no disrespect intended. Cronk got to his prestigious level through shear hard work and a side of aptitude. You can see that in his meticulous approach to the game. His structured style and zoned-in focus is the driving force behind the Maroons’ game plan.

Cronk’s steady hand allows Thurston to do what Thurston does best – roam free and sniff out any cracks in the Blues’ defense. For years Darren Lockyer and now JT were clinical in building pressure and then capitalising on a NSW error. But with Cronk’s early departure and DCE unprepared mentally, Thurston was obligated into this organisation role that took QLD 20-30 minutes to comprehend. With only three Origin games a year, 20-30 minutes can ultimately cost you an entire series.

Laurie Daley & New South Wales

Moments into the match, I thought Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds were going to be another halves casualty for the Blues. After a repeat set, NSW were building pressure and were ten metres out on the fifth tackle. The play had swung to the left, creating a substantial overlap to the right for Daley’s men. A quick play-the-ball to the right would have had every Queenslander worried. But the inexperienced Hodkinson broke the rhythm in play, swung back to the left flank and bombed Daniel Tupou – a tactic you’re obviously going to use when you have an Israel Folau-like aerial specialist on your wing. Trent’s untested composure squandered a great chance.

He went on to fool me. The Blues’ number seven collected himself, and no more rhythm halting plays eventuated. NSW attacked the veteran combination of Hodges and Tate and forced a couple of repeat sets thanks to Tupou’s acrobatic ability, which applies pressure on the defenders.

Laurie Daley absolutely, undeniably and irrefutably brained every decision. From the oversized bench and the plan to get Hayne involved, to the late dose of Luke Lewis, Daley’s plan was a massive reason NSW won.

Lewis wasn’t inserted until the second half. I cannot seem to find a statistic outlining the exact time, but I believe it was with about 25-30 minutes to go. It was exactly what both side required. A fresh set of legs carrying a heavy veteran brain. Lewis made 12 tackles, two tackles busts and had five runs for 39 meters. The old head didn’t necessarily have an impact such as Hayne or Gallen. Yet every time Luke touched the ball or the pill went his way on defense, he was a clear half-foot ahead of anyone on the field. His jersey was a crystal sky blue with no stains; he looked fresh.

The Blues massive forward pack has 657 meters while QLD were down with only 564 meters. Their size allowed them to gain fundamental meters after contact – something Mal and QLD will need to assess before Game II.

One scary reality for QLD is that Greg Bird will now join that already solid lineup.

Mal Meninga & Queensland

QLD’s pack got through some work, but Josh Papalii was non-existent and Chris McQueen struggled to make any real impact. Adian Guerra did everything you’d ask of a rookie. Still, his small frame permits NSW to cease forward movement on initial contact.

It wouldn’t surprise me if David Taylor or another big body received a call up for Game II. This would only be based on their size. [SIDE NOTE: David Taylor annoys the crap out of all NRL fans. He SHOULD be one of the best football players on the planet. Taylor’s massive, strong build can clock up some speed, he has ball skills, he can even put it on the tow; it’s a shame his lazy persona and donut addiction deprives us NRL enthusiasts the gift of witnessing a really special player. ]

 

Every Origin there’s chat surrounding Greg Inglis and why he doesn’t touch the ball more. In Game GI posted 19 possessions, 16 runs for 126 metres, one tackle bust, two line breaks, one line break assist, one try assist and 17 tackles (live.nrlstats.com). The problem for Greg is that we expect these statistics. If any other centre posted these numbers, we’d be praising the hell out of them.

Even though his 16 runs were second in the match behind Paul Gallen, he still needs more ball. It’s GI. Let him roam, design more moves that involve him with a 50-meter run up, something! How difficult can it be? Why the heck are we frequently questioning Mal’s game plan on this subject?

One tactic Mal should employ is switching Inglis and Darius Boyd in defense when the wingers need to fall back for the kick. If the goal is for GI to get his hands on the Steeden more, this is a no-brainer. This will give Greg ten or so additional touches.

This ploy could force NSW to alter their gameplan so QLD’s right-winger Brett Tate is the prime recipient of their kicks. If that occurs, the Blues are already on the back foot, as they’ll sensibly attempt to direct all their kicks to one side.

Queensland genuinely missed Mitchell Pearce’s presence. He’s been a true game changer for this Maroons’ side.

Billy Slater & Darius Boyd

The notion to alter the Maroons’ winning formula by moving Billy Slater to wing has been completely crushed after dynamic performances from Slater and Boyd.

Billy’s 13 runs for 203 metres, six tackle busts, two line breaks and seven tackles gave us glimpses of the younger Billy we all love to watch; even if he looked as slow as Gus Gould when on the break.

I’m fine with Darius Boyd only showing up for three games a year; Games I, II and III. His 14 tries in 18 Origin games is a ludicrous statistic. The stutter step he laid on Brett Morris to unbalance for his first of two tries was brilliant. His goose-like step caused the defense to freeze, unhinging Brett’s feet and allowing enough room to dive in. That was something special; he shouldn’t have scored.

Josh and Brett Morris

With NSW controlling their Origin fate, Laurie Daley has been decimated by injury. For me, the sidelining of Josh Morris (6-8 weeks, knee) and brother Brett (indefinitely, shoulder) is by far the biggest blow to the Blues’ campaign.

Brett scored their first try in the 19th minute of Game I and in the process dislocated his shoulder, causing a fracture and ligament damage. Fast-forward to the 74th minute. During QLD’s late charge Brett pulled off a heroic try-saving tackle on try-scoring machine Darius Boyd to hold onto their 12-8 lead.

The other Morris chromosome on the field was told in the second half that he might have done his ACL. Moments after being told, he jumped to his feet and chased down a rampaging Greg Inglis. Josh has since had scans which revealed an injury to his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).

True courage. There’s never any damaging media surrounding either of these two. Both have been significant cogs in the Blues’ line-up over the last couple of series. I’ve been trying to find Josh Morris’ try-saving tackle on Greg Inglis from the 2013 Origin series, but YouTube isn’t being helpful. If you can find it, it’s worth watching.

As soon as I heard these two had been rubbed out of Game II, I realised our chances had severely increased.

Justin Hodges

His ability to make metres from dummy half continues to amaze me. The defense knows what Hodges is going to do, but somehow no one can stop it.

Josh Reynolds

Even if you’re an enormously biased NSW supporter, the decision that saw Josh Reynolds free of suspension for his tackle on Brent Tate is one of the worst verdicts in NRL history.

 

Reynolds had this charge downgraded to a grade one. But Greg Bird, who missed Origin I because of a suspension, was given a grade two for this tackle on Rabbitohs’ Bryson Goodwin.

Goodwin landed on the top of his back, and at no stage was his body completely vertical. Whereas Tate’s body was totally upright; both, particularly Tate, were fortunate to escape without a serious injury.

Can you blame Queenslanders for crying conspiracy? I’m all for the best players being available for State of Origin, but gifting someone a free pass on a textbook-illegal tackle because his side hasn’t won a series in eight years – that’s pathetic.

The horrible truth remains the same: if the player (Tate) was injured as a result of the tackle, then a punishment would have been handed out. What a load of shit. No one wants to see another Alex McKinnon incident. SO WHY THE HELL ARE WE WAITING FOR ONE BEFORE ACTING ACCORDINGLY?

Through Brent Tate’s career he’s been the recipient of numerous shoulder issues, ruptured ACLs, a broken jaw, and a critical neck injury that now forces him to bravely wear a brace.

The physicality, strength and athleticism in modern epoch rugby league has no doubt reached its highest point since this great game began. Hence why the ‘Dangerous Throw’ rule has progressed. The chief element behind amending the rule was for player safety.

A quote from section 15, part 1(d) of the 2014 edition of the ‘Rugby League Laws Of The Game’:

If, in any tackle of, or contact with, an opponent that player is lifted that he is placed in a position where it is likely that the first part of his body to make contact with the ground will be his head or neck (“the dangerous position”), then the tackle or contact will be deemed to be a dangerous throw unless, with the exercise of reasonable care, the dangerous position could not have been avoided.

 

Ok great. Nowhere does it state that the severity of an injury is to determine the length of one’s suspension? In March Todd Greenberg said, “Lifting tackles in the game are here to stay” and “We are talking about dangerous lifting tackles and players being put in dangerous positions”.

That slogan dangerous positionwas really emphasised by the League after the McKinnon tackle. If the tackle on Brett Tate wasn’t the definition of a “dangerous position”, then fans are going to be mortified when they witness the NRL’s meaning of the phrase.

Our NRL writer Will Evans said it perfectly:

 

“The NRL’s edict to come down hard on anything resembling a dangerous throw has now been reduced to a laughing stock. The League’s silence on the matter since the controversial verdict is even more pathetic”.

 

Games II & III

 

NSW have poll position. You can’t argue that, especially after producing their greatest outing amid Queensland’s reign. The burden has shifted north. Will the brutality of Game I end up costing a team the series? Will the Maroons find a way to stay motivated after eight consecutive series victories? Can anyone knock Tony Williams off his, “I’m the most un-passionate player to ever play State of Origin” perch? All this remains to be seen.

All we do know is that Games II and III are not to be missed. That’s for sure.

 

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About the author

Drew Woodhouse

Our inspirational leader, Commentary Box Sports founder Drew is a born sports fanatic – particularly when it comes to rugby league, union, surfing NBA and NFL. A Brisbane native currently working out of Sydney, Drew’s occasional writing forays reflect that fierce passion.

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