Tuesday 22 August 2017 / 03:25 PM

STATE OF ORIGIN 2017: GAME 1 WRAP

Queensland played off the park

To open the game, the first five minutes showed us what what’ve been seeing for a better part of a decade. The Blues throwing themselves into an unbothered Queensland defence, finishing with an average kick that started a Queensland set that would end somewhere in their territory. Off the bat, Queensland entered the dreaded arm wrestle looking the usual, and whilst NSW fought back, they were slowly shifting down the field.

Around the five-minute mark, the tide shifted. The Blues continued to charge down the middle, with Queensland’s line speed slowly evaporating, and holes popping up frequently. It took the seven tackle set, following an Oates knock-on attempting what would have been a spectacular try, to provide the Blues first chance.

From there, Queensland were gutsy to fight back and get on the scoreboard, but some uncharacteristic lazy ruck defence led to NSW’s second try, and from there the Blues never looked back, clearly the superior outfit on the night. The faster the pace was, the more comfortable NSW looked matching Queensland, and it became clear that the Maroons just didn’t have enough firepower to compete with the Blues’ rampaging pack.

Fifita breaks out

What a performance. Andrew Fifita, much maligned for his antics in game three last year, was a man possessed, consistently charging through the Queensland middle third, dominating in what was the best performance of his Origin – and maybe entire – career. Fifita’s early play, which helped set the first try for NSW through a confident carry and silky offload, saw him often evading defenders and pushing the line to breaking point, going on a few brilliant charges that got NSW moving. He had 77 meters in the first 20 minutes. After returning from his spell it was more of the same, Fifita immediately charging through the line, swatting away defenders with ease. He finished with 183 metres from 18 runs and 21 tackles was and named best on ground. Dominant display.

Everybody wins

The second half saw the score balloon, but the hype and anticipation leading into game one was more than justified, as we were treated with what might have been the best half of football all year. Both teams fired up, and the pace went into overdrive with one stoppage in the first 20 minutes. Full of good, clean footy, hard charges and big contact, the early exchanges were simply breath-taking. We then saw two game-changing tries within 10 minutes of halftime that accelerated the drama of the match. The first half finished with equal possession, two penalties and one error. Classic first 40. Football of the highest quality.

NSW kicking needs to be better

The tactic to continually challenge Oates was obvious, and somewhat effective. He wore down as the game continued and they were able to limit any long charges off ball returns, a problem in the past. However, there is still plenty left to be desired off the boot. Many of Mitchell Pearce’s bombs were too long for chases to apply pressure on the catcher, and he struggled to find the ground on long-distance strikes.

It didn’t weigh on the result tonight, but in the game’s competitive portion, it failed to trouble Queensland and at times even helped them get their sets rolling. The attacking kicking game was non-existent. There wasn’t many final tackles on the line, but each time there was, they came up empty. Cronk got one shot and put it on the money. That’s the difference, and it needs to improve if the Blues are to win the series.

Form Matters

Queensland’s problems are very real. The combination of Frizell, Cordner and Fifita were brilliant in the opening exchanges, helping overcome a usually stout Queensland defensive line, running right through them. Queensland quickly wore out, and NSW had their way with them the rest of the game. This has been the rockbed of the Queensland dynasty, but in game one it was a no-contest.

Many were sceptical going in, and Myles, Thaiday, Lillyman and Guerra did nothing to silence the doubters, heavily outplayed by some hungry Blues forwards. They have to take another prop into game two – once both teams went to their benches the difference between them really opened up, and Queensland were without the size or power-running to fight back. Jarrod Wallace for Aidan Guerra makes the most sense here, as he was poor in the minutes he played when the game was semi-competitive, and offers nothing that Queensland doesn’t already possess. Carrying guys out of form doesn’t mean they won’t play well, just don’t expect them to outplay those in form.

Bench Impact

Both coaches nailed the timing of their first interchanges, coming in around the 20-minute mark after a frantic first quarter. The go-forward the Blues were starting to generate was bolstered immediately once David Klemmer took the field, and Jake Trbojevic, who followed closely after, quickly settle and got stuck into his work. Queensland turned to Thaiday and Lillyman, two experience travellers, and failed to generate the same impact. As the pace slowed and the Maroons tired, the Blues bench continued to ask questions and put them hard on their heels.

It was this mismatch that led to the undoing of the Maroons’ defence — they couldn’t contain the go-forward of the rampaging NSW forwards, and had no counterattack of their own, whilst all the Blues’ subs came on and offered something different.

Wade Graham had a few game-changing plays. First, with the momentum rush after the try, Milford made a half-break, stepping his way into the clear before Graham came across and nailed him with powerful cover tackle, completely shutting down the attack that may have led to more Queensland points. Down the other end, Graham was thrown the ball wide of the ruck, as normally seen in Sharks games, Graham’s kicking threat had left defence assuming, already back-pedalling anticipating the kick, as he turned the ball back inside for a flying Tedesco, who found Mitchell Pearce for an momentous try. He came up with multiple big plays at crucial points that could have swung the momentum completely. Fifita, Tedesco and Peats were the best on ground and will fairly receive all the praise, just don’t overlook Graham’s contributions.

Bird and Morgan were both asked to play important roles following injuries to Pearce and Milford, though the game was already out of reach. Morgan had time earlier, coming on as a roving forward, but failed to make any kind of an impact. After multiple uninspiring performances in this role, maybe it’s time to reconsider whether or not it’s a good use of his talents — eight missed tackles in a short time and only 80 running meters off 10 carries suggests he’s struggling with the size and work of the middle.

Bird, like his last Origin, looks comfortable at any position, and contributed well in limited time. He may be in line for a starting spot sooner rather than later, because…

Centre defence

Will Chambers is an all-round beast at centre, but he saw little ball and rarely got touches in good positions. He was defensive output suffered somewhat, his five missed tackles poor, but understandable. Justin O’Neil had a tough time defending Hayne and Cordner. He is a solid defender but seemed out of his depth trying to handle some of the bigger bodies thrown at him. He also had an increased workload as the Queensland backs tried to lift their team onto the front foot. Eight missed tackles is too many.

On the other side, both Hayne and Dugan were a mess. They present two separate, but equally ineffective, ways of defending at their position. Dugan rushes up and either fails to complete the stop or gets brushed aside because he has had the angle cut off. He is a strong hitter, but defence is as much about physicality as it is awareness. Giving up eight missed tackles is again, unacceptable, especially when the Maroons came with so little pressure.

Hayne is different. Hayne is caught hanging back too passive, flat-footed and unreactive. The ball starts coming his way and he holds his position, simply because he isn’t accustomed to making the standard reads. Cronk caught him at the line several times, most notably on the line-break which led to the Oates try tackles later. He doesn’t miss tackles, but he isn’t in a position to even make them. We’ll chalk it up to reps, but it could have proved costly.

This is the risk you run picking players out of position. No one is doubting their effectiveness in attack, but neither looked comfortable without the ball, either over- or under-committing anytime they were asked to make a decision. Queensland will target this heavier in game two and it could have led to serious problems tonight.

Rookie Report

Anthony Milford – Solid in early exchanges. Had a few nice forays down the left edge. Comfortable in defence and didn’t shy away from the heavy contact. Game wasn’t lost through him and it’s pretty hard for a debutant five-eighth to impact a game when their forwards are getting dominated. Not bad.

Dylan Napa – As expected, was heavily involved in the opening exchanges, laid on some big shots and took some big charges with the ball. As the game wore on his impact was nullified and he struggled to emulate the energy from the fiery start, hampered by a foot injury. An Origin player no doubt, clearly belongs at this level and can match it with the best, but was outplayed by a rampaging Blues pack.

Nathan Peats – The fact that some questioned how he would handle the workload of Origin suggest more people need to check out some Titans games. Those who have wouldn’t be remotely surprised by his performance. Like Napa, his game is tailored for Origin, and he handled the stage like he belonged there. Pinpoint service to both his forwards and halves all night, and was a workhorse in defence, finishing with a game-high 53 tackles. Executed his job perfectly, superb debut.

Jake Trbojevic – Trbojevic is known for his engine and workload, so the questions for him were more based on how he would impact the game from the bench rather than if he could handle the pace of Origin. Brought on to play prop, the tyro got stuck right in, getting involved whenever he could and contributing the defensive line. Played his role, provided great energy and lost no believers in a solid debut. A mainstay going forward and a future leader on this team. Has such a loveable game.

Things I like and Don’t like

  • Many questioned if Josh Jackson starting at lock was the right move. He was terrific in holding down the middle third in the open exchanges, not missing a single tackle as he hit with his usual ferocity. Continues to shine at the highest level, underrated player.
  • Matt Gillett was earmarked as the next leader of the Maroons forward pack, and was a total no-show when the going got tough. To be considered among the elite, these are the games you need to show up in. Six runs for 69 metres is near-pedestrian production for a player of that caliber, needs to be better.
  • New South Wales, for all their glory, still blew multiple opportunities early in the first half. Queensland love to scramble on the line, but the halves especially need to be more effective in the final third. Rarely will you see a team blow this many chances at Origin level and still win the game. Shows how far ahead they were tonight, nonetheless something to work on. Could have been costly.
  • Tedesco had a blinder, his positional awareness and defensive work the most impressive it’s ever been. Multiple occasions where he was on the spot to collect a bouncing ball, most notably on the grubber that Cameron Smith sent towards a screaming Cooper Cronk, preventing a surefire try. His hit to stop a full-throttle Gillette up in front of the line was the best tackle of the game, a classic try-saver that stifled the Queensland attack at an important time. He followed that up with a scrambling effort to deny Dane Gagai in the corner and then again to hold the ball up over the line. Terrific performance, and there’s no doubting who will wear the No.1 for the foreseeable future.
  • Dane Gagai was fantastic in a losing side, a game-high 220 meters, providing some much-needed yardage early in their sets. Five origins in and he’s been nothing short of excellent in each showing.

  • Cameron Smith missed seven tackles(!), in what may have been his quietest origin performance in memory. If that isn’t a barometer for how dominant the Blues were, not sure what is. Queensland veterans really struggled.
  • Nice to see Klemmer take a few runs wide of the ruck, where he can really cause damage. Too often he’s found trying to barge his was through; going wide allows him to get his legs under him and really get forward. Would love to see the three-headed line-up of him, Fifita and Woods at some point in the series.

[YouTube – sithira c]

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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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