Monday 23 October 2017 / 11:38 AM

State of Origin: Game I Thoughts

Origin, it is such an epic time of the year. After eating lunch in Bondi Junction, in my Queensland jersey and Maroon chinos, I was confused how I could only find two Blues fans to heckle. One of which was in his late twenties who I mimed “7” at, and the other an old man in his eighties. I used my loud voice to over powers his (he started it).

As the day progressed I found myself disheartened by the noticeable lack of spirit from Blues followers. Twenty others and myself attended the game last Wednesday, and as I took the train to meet everybody for a beer beforehand, I didn’t see one New South Wales jersey. What perplexed me even more was the myriad of high fives I received from Queensland allies.

The confidence I attained from the seemingly weak support for NSW was enormous.

How wrong I was.

 

Laurie Daley 1 Queensland 0.

As we arrived to ANZ and I went through my standard Rugby League game ritual (toilet, bar, seats), it became apparent that Laurie Daley’s discreet build up to Game I had totally mislead the state of Queensland. Their fans weren’t less passionate than us, they hadn’t forgotten about Origin, they didn’t hide in their homes all day; they had simply been waiting at ANZ Stadium since Cooper Cronk slotted the winning, 42-meter drop-goal last series, and they were laden with expectations.

State of Origin I 2013 Thoughts:

Luke Lewis: The man of the match turned back the clock Wednesday night with a stat line for the ages: 18 runs for 176 meter, 4 tackle busts, 32 tackles, and 1 try assist. Lewis set the pace early via numerous solid runs up the middle of the park. Running at holes and not defenders allowed Lewis to get over the advantage line constantly. There isn’t much more to say, Luke’s high intensity fueled the Blues in the first 20 minutes.

 

Justin Hodges: Another player who defied the laws of age. Justin’s trademark dummy half running kept Queensland in the game. His stats of 132 meters, 17 runs, 4 off-loads, 5 tackle busts and 13 tackles were excellent, but aren’t a true reflection of his impact on the match. As the Maroons struggled to get any momentum or flow early, Hodges’ ability to make easy meters was crucial. What makes Hodges so damaging is his upper body strength and deceptive speed. His running style is deceiving, it looks like he is only pottering along when in fact his long strides are misleading to defenders. Apart from one dodgy offload, Justin’s second half was unreal. His knack for making meters out of dummy half was vital. It is one thing to simply make 10 meters, where and when you make that ground is another element. His dummy half run and one handed off loaded in the 60th minute catapulted Queensland down the field; the Maroons scored off the next play. This play shifted momentum in QLD’s favour, and from then on the Blue’s never looked like getting back in control.

 

The Blues: Holding Queensland to 0 at the half for the first time since Game I in the 2006 series, the Blues were physically and emotionally on top. This was evident straight after they scored their first try. As the game restarted, the Blues first offensive and defensive sets were clinical. Running the ball out from their own line they managed to make 54 meters, finished the set with a perfectly placed bomb, which was capped off with a superb kick chase; this left Queensland starting their set of six from about 5-10 meters out from their own line. In hindsight, NSW made 90-95 meters off the set of six following their try. Something the Blues struggled to do well last year; Laurie Daley’s injection is surely the catalyst for this strategy. Succeeding this set, the Blues defensive effort only allowed QLD 19 meters. Inglis was picked up and dumped, Shillington was meet in a physical tackle, Tate was cut in half, and Robbie Farah put a solid shot on Nate Myles. As a coach/fan, there is nothing more uplifting than to see your team keep their composure after putting points on the board.

 

The Blues Offensive: NSW leg drive and meters after contact played a pivotal roll. The Blues were running at holes instead of opposition players. There might not have necessarily been an actual hole in the defensive, but this ploy assisted NSW in bending QLD’s defensive line, which allowed the Blues to consistently get over the advantage line.

 

The Blues Defensive: NSW hunted in packs and executed an umbrella type defensive strategy. The outside players would rush up, while the inside line would sit back. This successfully stopped the Maroons, normally lethal, second-man play. Johnathan Thurston was caught with nowhere to go several times. The Blues tactic forced QLD to play up the middle, which suited NSW considering they have more strength in their forward pack. The only negative is that this gifts QLD meters from dummy half, which they figured out and fully took advantage of in the second half (especially Hodges).

 

Josh Morris: First and foremost, his try saving tackle on Darius Boyd in the 32nd minute was brilliant. Boyd was a little behind the play and wasn’t able to hit the line with speed, nonetheless full credit to Morris. Josh continued his stellar defensive play from the 2012 series, yet again proving to be a defensive weapon. With the problematic challenge of marking Greg Inglis, he effectively shut him down; he rarely allowed GI any space throughout the night. One error Morris made was his feeble tackle attempt on Greg ‘Fend’ Inglis that led to QLDs try. This created the 2-on-1 overlap, which meant Blake Ferguson had to come off his line; subsequently putting Boyd over in the corner untouched. The try came after Hodges, Billy Slater and Brent Tate combined down the right hand side of the field. A quick play the ball didn’t allow NSW to employ their umbrella defensive, this left Inglis with space, and we all know he doesn’t need much.

 

The Maroons Bench: Consisting of Corey Parker, Matt Gillett, Ben Te’o and Chris McQueen; these guys were epic. As Queensland’s starters struggled, these guys came in and picked up the slack. With minimal minutes between them, the amount of labour they each got through was quite impressive. Corey Parker led the way with 10 runs for a total of 80 meters gained, 2 tackle busts, 25 tackles, and a game high 4 offloads; all in just 33 minutes. These guys provided opinions in attack and gave QLD some much needed flow in the match.

 

The Maroons Defensive: The Maroons were not at their defensive best. Not sticking initial hits and falling off tackles really hurt QLD, especially in the first half. At half time NSW had 832 meters gained, QLD just 498 meters. Furthermore, at the half QLD had 13 missed tackles to the Blues 4. Their goal line defensive stepped up and NSW were shut out in the second half. A great sign for the Maroons is how they successfully pulled together after the Blues composed start to the second period. The first three sets of six for the home side would have delighted Daley. Three extremely tidy sets that resulted in one drop out. QLD stuck calm and tightened up without the ball, imposing their defensive, resulting in plenty of NSW errors (the error count in the 67th minute was NSW 10 QLD 4).

 

QLD Kicking Game: Or lack there of. The Maroons just couldn’t get it right. Numerous kicks were too shallow, and their 5th tackle options in the opposition 20 were horrible. Blake Ferguson had a great game under the high ball, effectively defusing four or five bombs throughout the night. After the second or third take from Blake, wouldn’t you try something else? What hurt the Maroons more was the copious amount of disappointing grubber attempts. At least four or five didn’t even get through the defensive line. The effect that has on your team can be detrimental, especially to the forwards. After completing a great set of six, the forwards want nothing more than to see their hard effort awarded. Many times QLD had a little roll on and their momentum was cut in half as a hapless kick took place inside the Blues 20 meter line. Even watching as a spectator, you sink down in your seat in disappointment. Envision how the players would feel.

 

Jarryd Hayne and Michael Jennings: Once again these two were great for the Blues. Both of their tries consisted of strength and will. Hayne (188 meters gained, 16 runs, 1 line break, 6 tackle busts, 6 tackles, 1 try) caught a low inside ball, shrugged off Cam Smith, took a solid hit from Inglis well short of the line, performed a spin, and slammed the ball down. It was an incredible display of determination. Michael Jennings (87 meters gained, 9 runs, 1 line break, 7 tackle busts and 19 tackles, 1 try), scoped up a lose ball, fended off Cam Smith (again), took on another four defenders, continued to pump his legs and scored a powerful try. Both players received the ball with plenty of work to do. The Maroons were unlucky with Hayne’s try, as Tate was called for a knock on in the previous play, gifting the Blues a scrum 10 meters out. This was an incorrect call.

 

Hayne also dominated in defensive coming up with a spectacular tackle on Cam Smith to save a try.

Cam Smith: One player who certainly wasn’t at his best. Smith didn’t seem to have his head in the game. Smith’s game was full of uncharacteristic errors and plays. His two costly missed tackles 10 meters led to tries; his double movement was a lapse of composure that we are not used to seeing; and his illegal strip gifted the Blues two points. This was just 1 of 3 penalties against Cam on the night. The most obvious play, which cemented that Smith wasn’t his usual self, was the build up play to the Jennings try. Cam is hunched over defending his own line for at least 6 seconds until he realises Jennings is about to dart his way; an inexcusable play. Watch at the 28-second mark below, as Farah kicks from dummy half, Smith stays down.

 

 

Greg Inglis: Apart from his try assist, Greg was exceptionally quiet. Josh Morris didn’t allow him any room. Just 66 meters and 1 tackle bust confirms just how unproductive he was. Greg’s South Sydney Rabbitohs are at the top of the NRL ladder, how did they get there? Inglis plays fullback at club games and averages 24.4 touches per match; Wednesday night he had just 11. Clearly this is because he’s at center and not fullback. Shafting Billy Slater and putting Greg at fullback is NOT an option. That would be the dumbest move in State of Origin history. The solution is simple; the more GI has the ball in his hand, the better for QLD. Firstly, in defense, Greg should be dropping back on the 5th tackle instead of Boyd. This will allow GI twice as many touches, plus he will be receiving the ball in space, where he is most dangerous. Why didn’t this happen in Game I? If Darius was carrying a niggling ankle injury, why force him into more situations that could aggravate it? Furthermore as QLD carry the ball out from their own line, GI must take control and be at first receiver for a hit up. The 6 foot 5, 106kg machine is quite possibly the sturdiest man on the field; I have a strange feeling Game II will consists of a bunch of Greg Inglis highlights.

 

Nate Myles and Paul Gallen: No doubt the major talking point from Game I. This happened just before half time. The incident was another example of Gallen’s terrible leadership. With little time remaining in the half, up 14-0, with all of your players exhausted, why put more pressure on your whole team by gifting a dangerous QLD side a penalty, which allowed them an attacking set inside your own 20? The Blues had dominated the Maroons all half, kept them down the other end, executed well, yet Gallen put himself first and thought sorting out a personal dispute was of a greater concern. Laurie Daley would have been furious.

There is no problem with the incident (Gallen landed some epic blows). I’m with everyone when they say, “It’s Origin, fights happen”. I even disagree with the one-week ban Gallen received. If anything he should have been sanctioned for the swinging forearm to Nate’s head which triggered the confrontation (another brilliant brain snap from Gallen). It was a cheap shot, and you cannot argue that. Two players were holding Myles, the tackle was complete, Nate was falling to the ground, and classy Gallen went in. It’s great to see the face of NSW Rugby League really living up to his reputation as a grub. I truly enjoy watching Gallen thrive in his roll; Paul acknowledges he is a grub and passionately performs in character on the field; who else do you know that would deliberately pull stiches out of an opposing players’ head like he did to Anthony Laffranchi in 2008? What a true leader. A marvelous figure in Australian sport, NSW should be nothing but proud of their grubby role model.

The funniest part was after the altercation had ceased. Paul clearly admits he had intent; which is an enormous concern to Gallen’s mental stability. If this altercation happened on the streets, and Gallen quoted the below statement to a police officer, he would be found guilty of intent. Gallen said to the referee:

“He’s (Myles) getting my knee and twisting it, every time, every time. He’s (Myles) been doing it series after series, head butt, head butt, twisting”

 

Gallen dobbed on Nate Myles! He initiated the fight with the wayward arm and then evidently threw all the punches, Myles didn’t even throw one back. Is it a coincidence that Nate Myles has not once logged a single offence at the NRL judiciary? I don’t think so. Paul Gallen on the other hand has 17 with a total of 19 weeks suspension since 2002. Come on, in one of the toughest sporting arenas in the world, these actions of complaining to a referee are honestly childish and just plain crap. Should players who face Gallen in the future complain to the umpires about his past on-field play? Depends if the NRL could add an extra 30 minutes to every game:

  • Gallen was given a one-match suspension in 2007 for head-butting Shane Shackleton of the Rooster. Hypocrite?
  • Pulling out Anthony Laffranchi’s stiches and accused of grabbing Josh Graham’s balls during the same game in 2008.
  • Accused of twisting Mick Crocker’s testicles in the 2008 Origin decider.
  • Racially abused Mickey Paea in 2009, copped a fine and surrendered his club captaincy.
  • Having a friendship with Greg Bird.

The sagas continued as Gallen appeared on the NRL show Sterlo Thursday night. He was outraged about his suspension stating:

“A Brisbane player ran in and hit a bloke when he wasn’t even looking and was given a grade one, me and Nate stood there toe to toe and we got into it”.

 

Well Gallen got into it. Nate, as I’ve stated, didn’t throw a punch.

Wally Lewis, a Rugby League legend, quoted, “Either he (Gallen) has poor memory or he is embellishing his claims”. Is he right? Gallen also stated on the show, “I can’t believe I’ve been suspended for it, when was the last player suspended for a fight in Origin? I don’t know”. Michael Jennings last year Gallen. Looks like his memory is horrible.

 

Nate is now under scrutiny for his tackling technique. Numerous news outlets are screening a few specific videos in an attempt to back up their theories. One in particular, a tackle on Jarryd Hayne in Game I.

Nate barely touches him and Hayne stays down; but not because of the tackle from Myles. Something people don’t pick up is how James Maloney steps on Haynes face after the tackle. So I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s hilarious that NSW are broadcasting this clip in every media outlet possible as proof:

 

After viewing the video on Sterlo, Gallen quoted, “I’m not making this up, look the evidence is there”. The evidence is right there, about 9 seconds in. Funnily enough, the Sterlo show tried to use this tackle in an attempt to persuade viewers, even with Sterlo admitting on the night that there is “nothing wrong with the tackle”.

Nate hasn’t complained once, not to anyone, not even a referee. Actually he is a firm believer in, ‘it’s just Origin’. Gallen summed it up better than anyone:

“He (Myles) took everything like a man”.

 

Game II

The conflict is something the series was lacking, which certainly makes for an exciting Game II.

Looking forward to Game II there are some positives for the Maroons. With how much NSW dominated, QLD can be pleased that the difference was only 8 points. Smith and Inglis will be more involved, and Thurston will be over his niggling injury.

The one try the Maroons managed was a typical QLD one. It consisted of three offloads down one side of the field, followed by a swift movement to the left that gave Inglis enough space to pull of his signature fend, which sent Boyd over untouched. It looked effortless; an offensive sequence that accurately defines this Maroons team and their talent.

One play that nearly came off in the first half was Thurston’s chip to the wing for Boyd. If the Blues continue to employee this umbrella style defense, watch JT and Cronk take full advantage of that in Game II.

NSW and Laurie Daley are smart enough to realise that QLD were not at their best. Game II the Maroons will no doubt express more desire and passion.

Only six teams have come back and won the series after losing Game I. Four of them have been Queensland sides, two in the last six years. This series is far from over.

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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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