Queensland’s 26-16 victory over New South Wales added yet another page to its dominant legacy. New South Wales fans should take no solace from the relative closeness of the scoreline. In the end, the conservative approach both on and off the field by the Blues was found wanting against the precise work of the Maroons.
New South Wales played this game like so many in the Daley era, i.e conventionally. This suited the early going, as the first half the game resembled the first iteration of this series. The game was played predominantly between the two twenty-metre lines as both sides worked to gain dominance in the middle of the park.
But it didn’t translate to points due to the Blues inability to pressure the Maroon defensive line. Even their ‘enterprising’ play seemed to come off the rugby league production line. They added a standard inside ball to the standard sweeping block play that every single team in the NRL runs. Queensland in the large part handled this easily both times the Blues ran it in the first half. It’s one thing that Blues coach Laurie Daley thinks these plays represent sufficient creativity in attack at origin level. It’s another when you’ve had multiple years of proof that they are not. This conservatism was endemic. The Blues took the safe two-point option both times they had the chance in the first half, seemingly aiming to win a low-scoring game – a plan that seemed bizarre on the dry-ground of Lang Park, against Jonathan Thurston.
Yet again, the New South Wales attack looked best on the few occasions when a ball-player attacked the line. Adam Reynolds set up New South Wales second try when he took Robbie Farah’s side-to-side play to the line and offloaded to a rampaging Tyson Frizell. Apart from that moment it was all east-west, without direction and punch. Farah has surely played his last game at this level, providing adequate service and little else out of dummy-half. James Maloney had flashes – he kicked well on occasion, and was unlucky that these kicks didn’t result in more points for New South Wales. But one attacking run by a half, combined with kicking in hope and an intercept try is not a way to win an origin game. Poor Matt Moylan waited until 20 seconds left in the game to show either aggression or enterprise in his play.
Queensland instead provided a masterclass in seizing the important moments. The big forwards rampaged up the middle of the park. Josh Papali (12 runs for 137m) and Corey Parker (16 for 144) most notably humbled a Blues forward pack in which only Aaron Woods (13 for 116m) eclipsed 100 meters. Cameron Smith provided Queensland direction, running when needed, and an excellent kicking game – the sparse difference between his and Farah’s performance perhaps earning him the Man-of-the-Match award. The insertion of Michael Morgan as effectively a third half was constantly a threat and provided a glimpse of the future problems that New South Wales will face.
And in the end it Jonathon Thurston gave us more reasons to appreciate his greatness. Thurston manufactured tries whenever the Maroons needed. After Frizell’s try made it a one score game in the 57th minute, his grubber from 30 metres out sat up in the end zone, his single-man chase enough to force Matt Moylan to concede the repeat set. On that set another inch-perfect grubber from a cold start found Dane Gagai in the corner for Queensland and Gagai’s third try. Then after Gagai gave Maloney an 80m jog to bring New South Wales within 4, Thurston threw an amazingly weighted ball to a wrapping Darius Boyd who put Corey Oates in to seal the game and the series. You will never see a better pass in such circumstances.
This was a reminder of the challenge facing New South Wales. Even with some free points to bring them back into a game they had no business being in, the class of the Queensland spine was just there to shut the door time and time again.
Ultimately, it feels like the Blues missed a real opportunity to steal a series from this ageing powerhouse. Queensland brought in several ageing players to this series who may not have been considered if the younger brigade hadn’t managed to get themselves suspended from this series earlier in the year. New South Wales may be thinking they are going to wait out Cronk/Thurston/Smith/Slater. But all that is waiting for them is Hunt/Milford/McCullough/Munster on the other side. Instead of seizing this opportunity, New South Wales played convetional football, allowing Queensland to dictate terms in both games. The Blues picked conservatively, sticking with players to satisfy myths rather than the rugged realties of Origin football.
It’s been 10 out of the last 11 they’ve been on this side of the ledger. If they continue to stick with this approach this trend will continue.