If you grew up watching Origin in the 80's last nights game was a throwback to that era. Muddy underfoot, not a lot of sideways movement, points hard to come by. And in the end it was a lot of solid QLD defence, a couple of big individual efforts, and a few calls that went against NSW that decided the result. 'The bounce of the ball' as they say.
So where did each side get it right and wrong?
NSW - The positives
1. Their overall performance
Showed that with a big rumbling forward pack they can definitely rattle the QLD team. Had QLD on the back foot most of the night. Fifita had a big impact when he came on churning up the metres. Adam Reynolds short kicking game far surpassed that of Thurston and Cronk forcing numerous repeat sets. Moylan nervous (as you would expect) still had a steady, if not blistering game, and passed most tests. The difference was only 2 points and they can take a lot away from the match after the lesson they received in game 3 last year.
2. NSW Rookies
All but one (read below 'interchange') of the NSW rookies proved themselves at Origin level. Particularly in a contest like that where it was a brutal arm wrestle. The game was hanging on a knife edge and looked like it could bust open at any stage. But they held firm and on the few occasions when QLDs champions were peppering their line they held firm. Only a couple of mis-communications at the back between Moylan and Ferguson. But that comes with combinations and they will be better for the run. I don't expect to see any kicks hitting the deck in game 2. Reynolds for me in a losing side was best on ground (along with Boyd) and barring injury and if NSW stick, this is a side for the next 5 years. As long as selectors don't chop and change like they have done int eh past decade, the Maloney/Reynolds combination will pay massive dividends in 2-3years time.
NSW - The negatives
1. NSW need to play straighter in attack
Need to learn to stay more patient and play to the conditions. Although they played, as many thought, up the middle, there were a couple of occasions where they tried to force a pass that went to ground and let QLD off the hook. When pressing on the line they kept going sideways. In my lead up article I pointed out that Darius Boyd plays up in the defensive line line and it is very hard to go around QLD:Boyd plays up in the line as an extra man, and the benefit of that in defence is it makes it very hard for teams to go around the edge.
It completely surprised me that NSW didn't turn the ball inside more to Fifita close to the line. They will learn in game 2 to play straighter. In attack. Every time they went wide QLD just slid on their line. The one time Maloney straightened in attack he put Cordner through for a try.
2. Choices on interchange
Dylan walker came on with only 9 minutes to go. Tried to milk a penalty and cost his side valuable possession and field position at a time when QLD looked out on their feet. After the first half Aaron Woods was not seen until the 70th minute of the second half. And Fifita wasn't seen until the midway through the second half. With such a big forward pack we knew they were going to tire out. So it puzzles me why the rotation happened the way it did. Fifita and Walker should have been given at least 10 minutes before half time to work into the game. Even though Fifita was extremely dangerous when he came on it still took a few minute to work him into the contest. If there is any change that needs to happen to NSW for game 2 it's Walker. Yes it is not his fault because he doesn't decide when to go on. But in a 17 man game you need to use all 17 men. If NSW are going to use a utility player for game 2 it needs to me a more versatile player (Tyrone Peachey for example).
Gallen stood up as he always does, most notably putting in a massive first half. However they were at home in conditions suiting their side and they didn't come up with a win, it will be a tough assignment for them to send him out a winner. The spine showed that with some time to build a combination they can be a formidable force and if nothing else this is a side for the future. If Reynolds stays fit and Maloney stays in form Pearce might have played his last Origin.
QLD - The positives
1. sttod up against a mammoth pack
Hung tough. Plain and simple. Haven't been tested physically like that for a long time, and proved that typical Origin spirit of hanging in and finding something when you have nothing left in the tank can still win a game. Thurston made a lot of tackles (we knew traffic would go his way) but put on some big shot's. Smith was so tough holding the middle of the park together. And Morgan put his body on line. No one his size should square up to Klemmer. He did and he paid the price, but that sort of effort personifies Origin. Scott's second effort at the 60minute mark lifted QLD with a couple of big runs. Papalii split the line a couple of times and put a massive shot on Gallen right on halftime. Although conditions didn't suit the Parker offload he took some valuable tough runs.
2. Darius Boyd
Without a doubt in my mind was best for QLD and almost best on ground, I thought Reynolds edged him slightly. How they came up with Gillett is not beyond me because he did play well (and it was personally his best Origin outing), but it's a surprise they came up with him the way Boyd and Reynolds played. Every little kick in behind the line from NSW Boyd cleaned up. He positioned himself to take a lot of NSW kicks on the full and brought the ball back time and time again. He will stay at No 1. for QLD and potentially Australia for the remainder of his career.
QLD - The negatives
1. Kicking Game
Their kicking game and last tackle options were ordinary at best. And not even their last tackle options. A couple of times on NSW line Thurston panicked and kicked on the 4th to no one. Cronks ankle clearly troubling him when kicking as he was rarely able to put up his floating bomb. The only 2 accurate kicks from Thurston were back inside to Cronk almost scoring a try, and to O'neill, late, cross-field, and he dropped the ball. Either one would have would have been a match sealer. Smith was the best of QLDs kickers taking over when Cronk and Thurston weren't delivering in general play. But Smith should be the exception not the rule in QLDs kicking game. And when the game is on the line and Sam Thaiday is your 5th tackle kicking option, you know you have had an off night with the boot.
2. Their Selection Process
Yes QLD pick and stick, but at some point you have to make a decision on form players. Nate Myles had little to no impact and it is my humble opinion (taking nothing away from him been one of QLDs best in the last decade)his Origin career is close to, if not already over. Guerra showed that his poor club form has cost him and also had little to no impact often falling behind the pace of the game. When you have a big mobile NSW pack winning the battle you need in form big men to combat them. Sometimes a tough decision has to be made and it might be time for Myles to step aside for Lillyman. In addition Gavin Cooper absolutely needs to be considered a replacement for Guerra in game 2. And next time QLD players break curfew they might not be so hasty to suspend them for an entire rep. year. Yes I'm talking about Dylan Napa and yes his Origin debut is well overdue!
Showed that they are a champion team and can still control a game even when you are only two points in front. QLD didn't necessarily win the match, what they did do was manage the contest and the result. Two big moments from Thurston: 1. Switching to the right side on the last tackle in the 37th minute to link up with Cronk/Boyd to put Gagai in. 2. His last grubber into the in-goal to force a dropout at the death sealed NSW fate. Boyd as mentioned earlier held the side together at the back. And Smith came up big in the middle. QLD will need to be better in game 2 to get the result. And if Cronk is fully fit expect them to go to another level.
My final say is not on the game, but it's actually on the television coverage. Channel 9's facebook page was copping a hammering last night during the coverage, as the elected to go in for more tight shots and more spider cam shots than usual. The poor coverage meant we missed many big plays:
1. Thurston in field kick to cronk - missed it.
2. Gagai pass inside on the last kick off - missed it.
3. Thurston conversion from spider Cam - terrible angle.
4. Cordners try - terrbile angle.
5. Multiple shots of game play from the crows where there were spectators head in the way of play.
It seemed almost ever y time a player carried the ball they went in tight. when they want to shoot to the crowd or to the coaches box I don't know why they don't insert a second screen (i.e. they do this on fox). So you the viewer can decide where to place your attention. For a contest that moves so fast with so much going on they should stick to one or two angles high and wide so we can see the contest unfolding.
The commentary team also need a bit of a touch up on professionalism. Yes it is Origin and yes they are past players and yes it's part of their DNA and hard to not to let their emotions get to them. However the post match wrap that is supposed to be an analysis of the contest was reduced to Paul Vautin sitting there gloating while Andrew Johns sat there and sulked. Gould and Lewis to their credit tried to steer the conversation but Andrew Johns merely scoffed at everything they said. Yvonne Sampson was the highlight of the coverage. She is a QLDer through and through but she showed neutral professionalism, no bias and hosted brilliantly. Yvonne is a credit to their coverage and hopefully holds the hosting job for long time.