Everyone knew how New South Wales were going to try and win Game 1 of State of Origin. When Queensland showed they had the capacity to stand in the way of that, the Blues had no alternative ideas. Instead, the two sides slammed into each other like angry goats for 80 minutes, with Queensland victorious 6-4.
No one has ever claimed that Laurie Daley is a master strategist. The Blues had signalled their intent from their selections, picking five props in an attempt to bash Queensland’s smaller, ageing pack into submission. For Queensland, the wet turf of Homebush has always resulted in a conservative game-plan, regardless of their advantages on the outside.Apart from the first 15 minutes where Queensland parked on the New South Wales line without crossing it, New South Wales dominated field position throughout the game. The five-headed hydra that was the Blues props didn’t rack up the stats (no one of them cracked 100 metres), but they did put the Queensland line under constant pressure.
But the New South Wales spine showed little creativity or threat to the Queensland line. James Maloney was the pick of the ball-players, and it was his direct running at a back-peddling Cooper Cronk that created the gap that Boyd Cordner strolled over in the 25th minute. It came on the 3rd set in a row on the Queensland line, and the Queensland defence was already exhausted at this point.
But the other players in the spine couldn’t take advantage of Queensland’s exhaustion. Matt Moylan failed to insert himself as a ball runner around the ruck at all. Adam Reynolds and Robbie Farah were most unimpressive. Reynolds’ long kicking game in particular was poor, rarely finding grass, and allowing Queensland to start sets in better field position than they deserved. Farah added little by way of attack other than slow service.
That Queensland took the same conservative approach to New South Wales reflected more the dominance of New South Wales in the middle of the park. Outside of the first 15 minutes, they spent most of the game dragging themselves out of their own area, and it was a surprise when they went over just before half time. It was a rare moment of ingenuity in this game; Queensland running the ball on their last, Jonathan Thurston straightening just enough to hold the defence, Boyd inserted himself into the line (Moylan take note) and excellent quick hands from the outside backs saw Dane Gagai go over in the corner. But after that they rarely found themselves in an attacking mode. And so instead they worked and kicked and worked and kicked.
And when it became clear that Queensland might just hold on, New South Wales had no other answer. They kept bashing up the middle, hoping to find a gap around the ruck and unwilling to pursue anything out wide. Dylan Walker was inserted and provided validation for all those who criticised his selection when he provided little in the way of variety of attack, other than error that effectively sealed the game.
And so the series shifts to Brisbane. New South Wales will not have the option of relying on Plan A for so long at Lang Park. Queensland will score more points there. If New South Wales can’t find a Plan B, then this series will be over.