State of Origin game two: key match-ups
The NSW Blues and Queensland Maroons battle each other once again in the second match of the State of Origin series at Homebush tomorrow night. With the Blues needing a victory to keep the series alive, we take a closer look at the crucial match-ups that will decide game two.
Can anyone believe anything Ricky Stuart says anymore? At the announcement of his team for game one, he loudly proclaimed that he would not pick players out of their club position.
Furthermore, he made it quite clear that he considered Jarryd Hayne a five-eighth, and a five-eighth only.
So for game two the NSW Blues select:
- Parramatta fullback (and Ricky Stuart five-eighth) Jarryd Hayne on the wing
- Cronulla lock Paul Gallen at prop
- Manly winger Will Hopoate in the centres
- And presumably, Manly backrower Antony Watmough as a reserve prop
Stuart also said he was building a team for the future. He then proceeded to pick 31 year old Anthony Minichiello, along with Will Hopoate, who will be unavailable for selection for the next two years due to religious commitments.
To be honest, I don’t actually mind some of the selections and decisions Stuart has made. But whilst I appreciate that circumstances can change and therefore dictate that you alter your stance, Stuart’s inconsistencies also means that we need to take everything he says with a grain of salt the size of Tasmania..
And that’s not even mentioning the panic and indecision of selecting Jason King as an emergency player, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs as his replacement, and Robbie Farrah as 19th man.
To the outsider, it looks like NSW are a rabble. And yet I can’t help but think Stuart has a plan that may trouble the Maroons dominance.
Meanwhile, Queensland coach Mal Meninga has the luxury of knowing that whatever he’s doing is working, and there is no need to alter it.
Mal Meninga’s record at Origin speaks for itself, and the Maroons have the coaching edge for the simple reason that Meninga has presided over 5 series wins in a row, and is up one nil.
Even the casual rugby league fan would be well aware that the forward battle is going to come down to a confrontation of size versus athleticism.
Queensland have a monster pack that has only been strengthened by the addition of Dave Taylor. Meanwhile, NSW’s forwards are dominated by rangy backrowers.
Yet, don’t mistake the Blues athleticism for being a sacrifice of hardness. Gallen, Bird, Scott, Watmough and Ennis provide NSW with plenty of mongrel.
NSW will be hoping that their athleticism improves their go-forward, while Queensland will be hoping to use their size to bash the Blues into submission.
Edge: NSW (in a coin toss)
It’s a massive gamble by NSW to select a fast, athletic forward pack at the expense of bulk. But considering that some of Queensland’s forwards tired at the end of game one, the strategy might just pay off.
The NSW halves were very solid in defence, but both need to lift considerably in attack. Pearce needs to improve his kicking game, whilst Soward needs to get his hands on the ball a lot more.
NSW have a lot of talent in the backline, but it’s up to the halves to get them the ball. After all, there’s no point owning a Ferrari if you keep it locked in the garage.
Just one thing to watch: if Pearce continues his poor form, Gidley may even replace him in-game.
For Queensland, Lockyer and Thurston didn’t dominate Origin one as much as I expected, but they were still extremely influential to the result: Thurston scored the first try, and Lockyer set up the last.
I don’t expect the Maroons halves to be as quiet in game two, and that will no doubt be giving the NSW coaching staff some sleepless nights.
Both halves pairings have a lot of improvement in their game, but Lockyer and Thurston’s ceiling of potential is significantly higher, giving them a considerable edge in this department.
For the most part, NSW did a good job of holding Billy Slater in check in game one, primarily kicking to Queensland’s wingers, rather than the Queensland custodian.
But in the big moments ‘Billy the Kid’ goes looking for the ball. And despite the fact that half of Australia saw him looming on the inside of Lockyer, he was still able to be in the right spot at the right time to score the match-winning try in Brisbane.
It’s not luck, it’s a skill. And NSW can expect more Slater brilliance in the Sydney encounter.
Anthony Minichiello was a surprise choice as the replacement for the injured Josh Dugan. Whilst many where stunned with the decision due to Minichiello’s age, I was puzzled simply because I don’t think ‘The Count’ is playing great football.
There is no question that his defensive positioning is better than Dugan’s, but in terms of attack, this is not the 2005 version of Minichiello. He’s lost a little bit of pace, and he doesn’t run with the reckless abandon of his youth.
However, he’s very experienced, makes few mistakes, is fairly safe under the high ball, and will generally place himself in the right spot to combat Queensland’s short kicking game.
Slater is the best fullback in the game, whilst Minichiello is an ageing veteran that isn’t even in blistering form.
The return of Greg Inglis has been somewhat understated, primarily due to the fact that he is yet to hit top form this season, and has had some injury issues.
I sense that many fans have forgotten just how damaging Inglis can be. In fact, GI is rapidly earning himself ‘Anasta Theory’ status.
NSW certainly won’t be underestimating him, and the big centre’s return increases the backline potency of the Maroons.
Meanwhile, NSW’s most threatening player in game one, Michael Jennings, and his winger, Brett Morris, have both been ruled out with injury. Whilst they’ll certainly be missed, the injuries could be a blessing in disguise, as it enables the return of NSW’s best player in 2009 and 2010, Jarryd Hayne.
The other newcomer to the Blues backline is debutant Will Hopoate.
It’s a bold decision by the NSW selectors, and whilst I personally would have selected Jamaal Idris, I think it’s a good selection. Hoppa Junior is a class player, possesses the special talent of ‘time’ with the football, and has a level head on his shoulders.
But he’s still on debut, and I think it would have been wiser decision to start him on the wing and let him ease his way into Origin football. Centre is the hardest position to defend in rugby league, and selecting a rookie there is fraught with danger.
However, he cops a break, because defending on the left-side against Dane Neilsen isn’t as intimidating as facing Justin Hodges.
Boyd, Inglis, Neilsen and Yow Yeh versus Uate, Gasnier, Hopoate and Hayne. I’m salivating at the thought of this match-up.
In this day and age of pampered superstars who think they’re above the game and should be exempt from any criticism, it’s refreshing to see a player take heed of the selector’s comments, cop it on the chin, and then work himself back into the fold.
David Taylor was essentially told by selectors that he needed to lift his game. So he went back to Souths and did exactly that. All credit to him.
And credit to the Queensland selectors, because it would have been easy to retain Jacob Lillyman in a winning side, but they recognise how damaging Taylor can be. His return ensures that Queensland will be even stronger for game two, particularly on the interchange bench.
However, the NSW reserves have also improved dramatically.
I lamented the lack of impact bench players that the Blues selected for game one, but they have rectified that for game two. Watmough, Gidley and Lewis are exactly the type of players you want on the bench in Origin football. They’re talented, tough and will change the flow of the game when they come on.
Edge: Queensland (by a hair)
The presence of Cooper Cronk gives the Maroons the slightest of advantages here. His kicking in game one allowed Queensland four options in attack, and it really troubled the Blues.
The Overall Key to the Game: The Forward Battle
Let’s be honest, it’s the key to every single game of rugby league.
However, for this particular game it takes on added significance, primarily because of the diametrically opposed strategies the sides have taken in selecting their forward packs.
Is Queensland’s size going to overpower the Blues? Or will NSW be too quick, skilful and athletic for the Maroons?
It’s impossible to predict, simply because I can see some method in NSW’s madness.
One thing is for certain: the forward pack that wins the battle will also go a long way towards winning the game for their state.
I have the utmost respect for this Queensland side, and I think they are one of the greatest football teams I have ever had the privilege of watching. But I just have a feeling NSW are going to pull this one off. I’m anticipating an Origin clash for the ages – an instant classic that no one will forget.
New South Wales Blues: 24
Queensland Maroons: 22
Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.