New South Wales’ Game 1 dominance came directly through the middle third. Their forwards’ utter destruction of the Queensland pack forced immediate changes that many thought should have been made prior to the series opener.
It’s clear to coach Kevin Walters that the unit he went with first time out wasn’t enough. The energy the young NSW forwards brought early, and sustained into the back end of the second half, played Queensland off the park.
Whilst the Blues will march out the same starting side in consecutive games for the first in 20 years, the Maroons were forced to set aside their heralded loyalty policy, moving on from forward stalwarts Myles, Guerra, Lillyman and Thaiday to bleed in Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess and ultimate bolter Tim Glasby.
Gavin Cooper, whose selection presumably has plenty to do with the return of Johnathan Thurston, also returns to the Origin stage following a one-game hiatus. That’s particularly interesting considering the axing of veteran Sam Thaiday, whose form remains solid in club land. However, it is three debutants that bring about the most intrigue heading into Game 2.
Jarrod Wallace has been one of the most underrated transfers, as well as one of the most improved players in the competition. One of the only consistent performers (or players to remain uninjured) in the Titans lineup, he gets through plenty of work; dependable with his carries and terrific in defence.
The media coverage surrounding Tim Glasby’s selection has been appalling. Referring to the Storm prop as a “no-namer” is a blight on the individuals who cover the game rather than Glasby himself. Anyone who watches the Storm weekly is aware of the valuable job he does for the team. That aside, we aren’t confusing Glasby as a game-breaker who will turn the game upside-down Fifita-style. Rather, Glasby is a reliable, defence-orientated workhorse who will get his job done with little flair but plenty of effect.
Young gun Coen Hess has burst onto the scene after a strong start to his career at the back-end of last season led to a blazing start to 2017. His penchant for finding the try-line from close-range and power-running style lifted him into the rep conversation almost immediately.
What are the Maroons hoping to accomplish?
A complete reverse of their Game 1 performance. Whilst they were able to largely absorb the power of the Blues early, the deeper we went into the match, the more the cracks started to show.
The Maroons need go-forward just as much as they need to stop the Blues in the same department. This is where Wallace specifically is an improvement over both outgoing props Myles and Lillyman. Myles was solid in the opening exchanges, but Wallace presents a total upgrade in all departments being a threat on both sides of the ball.
Considering reports seem to have Josh Papalii slated to start up-front, Wallace may be used to fill one of the other needs.
Specifically, it was Queensland’s bench that struggled mightily in Game 1, and the area they needed to address most immediately. The outcome wasn’t without warning, many predicting that the Maroons’ forward pack was understrength compared the size of the Blues.
Queensland’s bench was far too timid to match the explosive running of the Blues replacements, and they’ve tried to address this with the changes they’ve made, but…
Were they the right moves?
It’s a strange predicament really.
Many of the changes that now seem forced should have been made prior to the opening match, Wallace particularly. These were justified as leaning on experience, but how a home opener is a harder baptism than an away fixture with the series on the line is puzzling logic.
From a footballing perspective, Wallace makes a perfect fit. Midway through a career-year, his play has demonstrated he is more than ready for the Origin arena and brings the exact tools Queensland were lacking first time out. Myles and Lillyman are no slouches defensively, but Wallace is elite in this category — his 34.4 a game ranks fourth amongst front-rowers, converting an efficient 94% of his attempts. This should help tidy up the middle third where NSW found so much space to work.
Hess and Glasby have something more to prove.
Hess’ potential is undeniable, but his output at NRL level has been somewhat overstated. In games where he has started, his run average drops from 101.8 to 72 metres. Furthermore, the two games he has been used primarily as a prop, he logged 57 metres in 50 minutes and a dreadful 37 metres in 80 minutes. That’s a small sample size, but there isn’t going to be much leeway for an inexperienced 20-year-old. Queensland seemed a prop short in Game 1, and if Hess is to log time there these numbers might be more important than initially thought.
What he does possess, however, is running prowess that is already among the elite tier of forwards in the game and the ability to break tackles unlike anything the Maroons had in the previous game. After seeing Klemmer’s influence in the Blues’ second-half blowout, Queensland are hoping to replicate that effect with the Hess Express.
The intensity at the start of an NRL game has proven to limit his effectiveness, and if that is extrapolated out to the dizzying pace of the first game, Hess may not translate as well as anticipated. That said, the jersey always brings the best out of the individual and his combination with Thurston and presence of club-mates Cooper and Morgan should help ease his transition somewhat.
Glasby represents the complete inverse of Hess — the silent hard-man who gets through his work without drawing much attention. The intention with his selection is to ensure the rhythm established early can be maintained in the periods where the Maroons struggled.
Still, the gap between Glasby and Lillyman isn’t all that large, and whilst his stout defence may help the restriction of NSW’s bench, it’s hard to imagine him powering through to make an impact himself. Glasby, whilst a quality NRL starting prop and deserving of the opportunity, may be the beneficiary of the lack of depth in the Queensland front-row ranks. And whilst there are more potent attacking options available, he’s received the nod based off his terrific defence that is now considered necessary in stopping the Blues.
That alone suggests a surprising turn of events — after 11 years of the opposite, it seems Queensland are making selections with the opposition in mind.