The review: State of Origin 1

BY DAN

Queensland defeated New South Wales (NSW) in the first game of the State of Origin for 2015. In doing so, they replicated the formula that saw them win eight series in a row. By dominating the battle for field position they made NSW play most of the game in the middle of the field. There will be calls for the NSW halves to be changed, but in truth this loss was not their fault.

The Queensland forwards dominated this game, routinely driving the Maroons down the field for at least 50 metres each set. In total metres, Queensland ended up with over 1800 to NSW’s 1350. Matthew Scott (14 runs for 152m), Corey Parker (15 for 132m) and Nate Myles (13 for 133m) were excellent, and Brisbane prop Josh McGuire was impressive of the bench (7 for 85m) in limited time. For NSW Woods (16 for 156m) showed why he’s the best Australian prop in the game, and was supported by Klemmer (11 for 106m) and Fifita (12 for 103m) off the bench. But there was limited support outside of this.

This dominance by the Queensland forward pack was reinforced by the play of Queensland’s big backs. The Queensland backs that did a substantial amount of the work to ensure that sets began safely, but with momentum, when Queensland begun in their own half. Hodges (18 for 195m), Inglis (14 for 121m), Boyd (15 for 157m) and Will Chambers (23 for 260m) repeatedly found good metres, including after contact, bringing the ball out of the Queensland half. In comparison, only Will Hopoate had at least 100 all-run metres for NSW.[1]

The work of the Queensland forwards, and the forward-like work of the backs, meant that the Blues were constantly ending sets in the middle of the field, particularly in the second half. This lack of field position meant that the opportunities New South Wales had either came from penalties (the well-worked try to Beau Scott came on the back of two penalties in a row dragging the Blues down the field), or through the enterprising work of Josh Dugan. When Pearce and Hodgkinson had the ball in the attacking twenty, they threatened, and if it wasn’t for a (probably head-high) hit from Cameron Smith on Mitchell Pearce NSW could have scored much earlier than they did. But these opportunities all but vanished as the game wore on and NSW consistently started sets from their own twenty.

In truth the game should have not been as close as it was. Queensland’s dominance in the middle of the field gave it the wealth of possession and position and it should have scored more points than 11. The work of Smith and Thurston throughout the game remained exceptional, and Cronk contributed a critical try and field goal. The best of the attack was directed around the ruck, particularly by Smith (whose excellent combination with Slater should have resulted in a try to Slater early in the game), and in the running of Thurston and Cronk.

But Queensland’s attack has been in the same shapes and structures for years, relying on the talent it had (in spades) to be the difference between the sides. As the years have gone on this talent is beginning to lose its magic – the play of Inglis in attack last night was a prime example. Unable to break tackles, incapable of making the right choice with the ball, Inglis repeated his ineffective display from the recent test match, fumbling away one raid, passing away another, and proving an anchor on the Queensland attack on the left side. Queensland sent most of its forays down his side, but scored all their points on the right. It will be worth watching to see if the Maroons alter this for the rest of the series.

Ultimately the rest of this series will be determined by both sides ability to adjust to these factors. Can NSW find more effective work from its forwards (and can its backs compete with the size of the Queensland backs)? Can Queensland find more penetration from the backs in the fun half of the ground? We’ll find out at the greatest sporting venue on earth in three weeks.

[1] It may be tempting to put these differences to kick-return metres, or a differing effectiveness of attacking raids, but these considerations do not seem to offer an explanation for the substantial difference.

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