Wednesday 21 March 2018 / 02:27 AM


Queensland do what Queensland does, stealing victory straight from the Blues to force a decider at home. Here’s the breakdown.


It ain’t over…

…until it’s over. Putting the cue in the rack 20 minutes early cost the Blues the game, and it might well cost them the series. We’ve seen what this Maroons team is capable of, time and time again they’ve pulled out wins of exactly this kind.

Tonight was just another example of the mental edge the Maroons clearly hold over this incarnation of the Blues. They never feel out of touch, even when all the running is against them, as it was towards the back end of the first half. Their ability to repetitively claw themselves back into the game and have a chance down the stretch is truly astounding and indicates the type of values this great run has been built off.

Plenty was said about the Blues’ youth after Game 1, but it was a decade of experience in practicing how to win that got Queensland over the line tonight.

For a second it seemed as though the game was trending out of reach. All of a sudden, the series is alive.

Quality Football

After some dour affairs over the past few series, the first two games (and you could include Game 3 last year) have witnessed a refreshing brand of entertaining football.

Although it didn’t hit the heights of intensity of Game 1, this was a legitimate 80-minute contest with plenty of big moments. The defensive effort from both teams was particularly impressive, including multiple big hits and some incredible try-line defence, headlined by the insane double sequence on halftime — first an unbelievable momentum stopper from Trbojevic to deny Cronk, than a joint effort between Ferguson with the great contact and Dugan with the last-ditch effort to stop Morgan as he rolled out of the tackle and over the line.

And even in a defensive game, they still managed a decent scoring output between them, indicative of the style of play we’ve witnessed throughout the series thus far. Here’s hoping that Game 3 provides another open, up-tempo and all-round entertaining game.

Returning legends make an impact

Thurston’s inclusion was always going to be a massive deal, but it was a rather uninvolved game by his standards. Of course, essentially playing with one arm doesn’t help that cause. Regardless, his presence was definitely felt by the Maroons, with their structure never falling apart as it did at times in the opener. Even without being able to take the line on and seemingly struggling in defence (even though NSW didn’t seem to notice…), his influence in guiding the team around the park and getting them forward alongside Cronk was essential to pulling out the win.

Influence – that was the difference between the Blues and Maroons halves, and in turn what separated the two teams down the stretch.

And JT was never in doubt when the go-ahead conversion was lined up. It won’t go down as his most memorable performance, but a champion effort as always. The injury is a legitimate concern going forward, though.

Speaking of injury, has a return from a major injury ever run more smoothly than Billy Slater’s?

His form for Melbourne has been essentially reverted to pre-injury standards, and the feel-good story of the year continued tonight.

In his overdue return to the Origin arena, Slater was a constant presence, impressive on a team who struggled to generate momentum for majority of the match.

Posed a threat every time he touched the ball and provided an option in the attacking third that opened up plenty of the opportunities out wide. Even without possession he had the defence in two minds running great lines behind the play all game. The only negative was repeatedly getting drawn in by James Maloney’s baiting. Awesome to see him back on top.

More of the same

Sometimes the best team doesn’t win. It won’t console the people of NSW, but they were arguably the best team on the park, which is equally as concerning as it is frustrating. This doesn’t feel like anything but a missed opportunity.

They looked more likely in attack and defensively were able to keep Queensland relatively quiet for majority of their sets. Outplaying the opponent and walking away without the win – an unfortunately familiar feeling for NSW.

See, the inability to convert momentum and field position into points has plagued the attack for years, and once again too many wasted opportunities cost them at the death.

Naturally, the Pearce conversation will rise up, as doubt over him is synonymous with a loss at this point. But it might be justified — blame for the lack of execution, wasteful kicking and poor structure with the game on the line falls squarely on his shoulders and whilst he wasn’t necessarily bad, he didn’t stand up like the Blues so desperately need him to.

The stage was set for him to finally put those doubts to bed — and rather than guide a 10-point lead home after a superb first 50 minutes, he was unable to orchestrate points in a scoreless second half.

And that’s what makes the loss so doubly disheartening. The Blues’ success has seemed to be hampered by similar issues through recent history, and after Game 1 victory felt like a changing of the guard, this only further solidified the identity and psyche of both teams. That’s scary heading into…

The Decider

Well, aren’t we in for a treat. With Queensland pulling out the win, we now head back north to decide the series. This game felt like such an enormous moment in the narrative for both teams, and this will only by magnified in the decider.

The storylines run deep across the park — Thurston’s finale, the winding down of the Maroon dynasty, Pearce’s Origin record (and job security), the Blues’ youth, and many, many more that will be discussed on rotation until the series is complete.

Here’s what we do know: Origin is still the pinnacle of rugby league, a showcase of the game’s very best. Following two cracking games of rugby league, it’s do-or-die. And that

greatness is showcased by competition, and after such competitive games, Game 3 is shaping up to be one hell of a spectacle.

Rookie Report

Valentine Holmes – A shaky start —a big shot from Woods dislodged his first carry and he made another error quickly thereafter. Able to regain some confidence squeezing over for his first Origin try, and was pretty solid from there. Will see better days. C

Jarrod Wallace – Stout in defence, as always, but wasn’t running as much as you might desire from your starting prop. Strangely didn’t play after his underwhelming opening stint. C-

Tim Glasby   Involved in two defensive errors that led to back-to-back NSW tries isn’t the best start, but got stuck in and had a few really good carries to redeem himself. Proved his capabilities without blowing away the critics. C

Coen Hess – Limited time, and a bit out of his depth in Origin, especially playing in the middle. If he is going to be utilised, needs to be inserted on the edge — still a strike weapon rather than a workhorse at this stage. C-

Key contributors

Josh McGuire – A typical workhorse effort with 115m and 49 tackles, turning up whenever and wherever he was needed. Not only was a consistent presence, but also made the line-break that changed the game. Snubbed from a deserved man of the match award.

Dane Gagai – Again topped the running metres count with 189, and another double to push his strike-rate to beyond a try a game. Building a nice rep resume.

David Klemmer and Jake Trbojevic – Just as in Game 1, the introduction of these two off the bench coincided with NSW’s best football. The combination of Klemmer’s power running (173m) and Trbojevic’s all-round craftiness provided the impact that spearheaded the attacking flurry that led to a NSW lead, having a direct hand with his trademark inside ball putting a screaming Tedesco through a hole. The duo were the Blues’ best, and put the team in a great position to win the game.

Boyd Cordner – For two reasons. Firstly, he played well. A return of 148 metres and 28 tackles is nothing to overlook. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, his emotional response to losing. He really cares. And whilst it might seem tough to take encouragement from someone’s misery, it’s great to see how personal the skipper took the loss. Will no doubt turn it up again in the decider.

Quick thoughts

    • Nathan Peats’ first contact is crazy impressive, especially relative to his size. Terrific defender.
    • Although the Blues’ forwards were still denting the line, Queensland did a great job of slowing the ruck right down. Killed the speed in the play-the-ball and nullified the advantage.
    • Just like the Blues missed a chance to target Thurston, Queensland should have looked to isolate James Maloney. Made a few early reads that would have been trouble had Queensland gone the opposite way and was generally jittery all game. A clear liability.
    • When Cam Smith wants things to happen, they happen. Active from the ruck when it mattered most.
    • After many questions, Boyd at centre went exactly as expected — smart in defence trying to smother Dugan, outstanding playmaking (a peach of a ball to send Holmes over) but not much of a threat with his running. Still not sure if that’s the best use for his skills, but it can work for now.
    • Hayne and Morris shut down Gagai and Chambers, throwing them over the sideline multiple times. Then missed when it mattered. The game is cruel but you’ve got to switch on for the entire 80.
    • Man of the match was an overstatement, but Josh Jackson was again terrific in setting the tone during the opening 35 minutes. A defensive brick wall.
    • Mitchell Pearce’s 2017 Origin campaign has been so on-brand it hurts. All the strengths, and all the flaws. And now it’s high stakes — Game 3 will make or break his Origin career.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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