No Thurston, no Boyd, no problem. The Melbourne firm put on a masterclass and Queensland breezed through for an emphatic 22-6 victory on the back of Munster’s magical debut and a Holmes hat-trick to make it 11 series wins in 12 years.
Queensland’s finest victory
After such a sustained period of greatness, it’s crazy to think that the Maroons are still finding new ways to impress. Widely billed as the biggest origin game ever, home-field advantage and a recent history of pure domination over their opposition wasn’t enough to earn Queensland ‘favourites’ status. But this team, regardless of the new faces and changing parts, excels on the biggest stage.
They had to steal game 2 to keep the series alive, but the decider required no such heroics, as they controlled the game from start to finish. This win stands alone in a long list of achievements — the hole they were forced to dig themselves out of when the series seemed all but over paved the way for a showcase of class and defensive vigour, effortlessly overcoming the team that threatened to derail the dynasty.
The crowning achievement for the greatest team in rugby league history, right when we thought they were nearing the end of their unassailable supremacy. With the successful blooding in of the next generation in Holmes, Munster, Napa, Wallace and Hess and the likes of Taylor and Milford waiting in the wings, it’s hard to see an end to the era of Maroon coming anytime soon.
The transferability of combinations from clubland to the representative arena was always viewed as somewhat overstated: the intensity level of origin is so far beyond that of regular club footy it won’t convey, and great talent will mesh together regardless of if they come from the same team. Well, allow tonight to stand as exhibit A on the contrary — Cameron Munster, debuting in the halves in a decider, was excellent, helped no doubt by the comfort of having his regular spine surround him.
And what a spine it is: halfback Cooper Cronk steered the team around the park commandingly, his direct play and pinpoint kicking giving the Blues defensive line fits all night. Watching the game, it was baffling to think Slater was left out of the team for the opener. It’s also clear he’s found his groove again, troubling the opposition with every touch and nailing his positioning on every play. NSW’s kicking was poor, but Slater’s flawless awareness is simply unmatched.
Then, the skipper. Tonight was another tutorial in footballing expertise from the great Cameron Smith. More active from hooker than in the other games, especially early, his roving scoots found plenty of space in behind a tiring NSW pack and led to multiple chances. His kicking was superb and defensively he controlled the middle, slowing the ruck down and getting through plenty of work.
As a combination they worked together splendidly, cycling between set play and ad-lib football naturally, anticipating one another’s moves and setting a rhythm that simplified the rest of the teams jobs. Outstanding performance for each of them, both individually and as a unit. Good luck to the rest of the premiership.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player look as comfortable on debut in an #origin match as Cameron Munster did tonight. Pure class!
— Eden Richards (@Eden_Richards) July 12, 2017
Battle of the pack
New South Wales undisputedly won the middle third in the first two games. It was in moving away from the forward battle that led to their downfall in blowing game 2. Tonight, the fight for the middle was squarely in the Maroons favour. The Blues bigs failed to make any inroads early, and the defensive effort stifled the entire NSW attack. Their central defence laid the foundation early, with particular credit needing to go to Wallace, Gillett and Smith for their tackling showcases. As we saw in stages during game 2, the Blues really struggled for go-forward when QLD slowed the ruck down, as was the case from the jump tonight. With the ball they found their front and were able to generate speedy play-the-balls that allowed Smith more time than he’d been afforded all series. The bench continued the work once called upon, carrying the load until the starters returned.
Most surprisingly, outside of Klemmer, the Blues forwards largely failed to fire, a disappointing finish to what should have been the ushering in of a new era. Considering the talent deficit up front, that has to be of serious concern to the NSW coaching staff, this is where the game was lost.
FULL-TIME: Queensland 22 – New South Wales 6 #Origin
Congratulations Jarrod Wallace and Queensland! pic.twitter.com/f9Il7E3zFe
— Gold Coast Titans (@GCTitans) July 12, 2017
Wield the axe
Ahh, the frustration. Hopefully you’re not too sick of the Mitchell Pearce debate, because it’s just getting started. Truthfully, if the Blues genuinely hope to win the series, they need to look elsewhere. Regardless of his ability and form at club level, the abundance of evidence now points to Pearce simply not being cut out to play origin footy.
We already knew this, but he was the most deserving at his position and needed a chance to play behind a winning pack. One more series was the mantra, he got it, and he failed to impress. The dominant team performance of Game 1 masked what was an extremely mixed showing, blame for the collapse in game 2 falls squarely on his shoulders (who else’s fault is it when the attack fails…) and game 3 was a complete no show. His kicking was ineffective, unable to find ground on basically every single kick, and failing to offer any threat on the last in good territory. His ball-playing was premeditated, forced and uncreative, simply substandard for the origin arena. No more chances, it’s time to move on.
With him out the door should be James Maloney, who is as hit-or-miss as Pearce himself. Maloney is an occasionally dangerous ball-runner, who is more opportunistic than influential. Any upside offensively is cancelled out by his laughably bad defence (9 missed tackles again, might as well paint a target on his chest) and penchant for the niggle. The Blues need a bigger presence from both their halves spots if they hope to ever end the drought for good.
Expect Blake Ferguson to also come under fire. His defence is of particular concern, with Holmes running in three tries down his flank. Not all were his fault, but he was so far out of position on the Cronk cross field kick that Holmes literally caught the ball and walked over the line. His inconsistencies without the ball continue to plague NSW when it counts, and with so much talent waiting in the wings (Trbojevic and Mansour particularly) it’s hard to see how to justify pushing forward with such a liability. Same could be said for Hayne, who has yet to play a game this entire year that proves he is worth the insane trust put in him and isn’t a washed-up former-star skating by on expectation.
Finally, there’s Laurie Daley. No Blues coach has survived four series losses, and whilst you can’t deny the strides the team has made under his watch, it’s fair to ask whether the team has reached its ceiling under his watch. It’s hard to envision him surviving such a blown opportunity.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) July 12, 2017
Cameron Munster – Simply terrific, absolutely killed it. Immediately comfortable and posed a threat all night. Had a hand in multiple game deciding plays and linked with both his forwards and outside men superbly. To think that prior to the season some questioned his ability to play 5/8 at all. Unlucky Cam Smith exists, otherwise would have been best on ground. Cements his place in the origin fold going forward. Will go down as one of the finest debuts in origin history. A+
Ben Hunt – Thrown on for a consolation nine minutes when the results of the game had been decided. N/A
— Herald Sun Sport (@heraldsunsport) July 12, 2017
Cameron Smith – Knew he needed to be more of a presence out of active half, and gave his team exactly what they were looking for. Ran for 105m after barely topping 40 in the first two games, making for a nice illustration of his uptick of involvement. Led from the front.
Cooper Cronk – Took the reigns without JT in the lineup and made his mark on the Queensland legacy. If it was his last origin, it was a perfect example of all the factors that made Cronk an all-time great.
This kick pass from Cooper Cronk is superb! 👏 pic.twitter.com/X8pqZrTHNT
— In At The Side (@Inattheside) July 12, 2017
Queensland’s back five – Aside from Morgan, who transitioned to the centres seamlessly, they all ran for over 115m, player of the series Dane Gagai topping the team (again) with an astounding 168m. Helped keep the wheels moving anytime NSW threatened to get on top and carried the team out of trouble on multiple occasions. All were impactful across the 80.
David Klemmer – Ran for 173 meters off the bench, which leaves him with an average of exactly 173m for the series. In a team struggling for momentum, did his best to right the ship. Excellent all series.
- Sometimes, Tedesco looks Slater-like with the way he appears out of nowhere to scoop up loose balls. May not have had his best game, but still proved why he should be the no.1 going forward.
- Jarrod Wallace might be the best defensive prop in the game
- Brett Morris’ last-ditch effort to deny Cooper Cronk over the line kept the game alive for the Blues. Never fails to turn up and his defence was great all night. One of NSW best over the recent years. A fitting close on a fine origin career.
- Shouts out to Tim Glasby, who was quietly effective in anchoring the bench with his work through the middle. Almost scored a runaway try which would of been an oddly-satisfying way to silence the critics.
- Peats was outstanding in defence again (game-high 40tk) but took one run for 3m. Needs to back himself and be more active. Regardless, belongs at this level and should make the jersey his own.
- Gillett and Cooper held down their edges fantastically, both topping 40 tackles and nullifying the Blues biggest threats.
- Both Cordner and Frizell were clearly