Fighting fit Smith will have Maroons crisp again
Mal Meninga and Ricky Stuart have been letting loose recently (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
Desperate as I am to have a series decider in Brisbane, I think tonight’s game at ANZ will see Queensland bury the Blues, meaning a seventh successive State of Origin series loss for NSW against Queensland.
I believe Mal Meninga’s men will win – and more than likely, win handsomely.
In so many aspects, they were off their game in the series opener at Melbourne and still managed to finish in front. I cannot see them performing that way again. They are too good at being magnificent, not mediocre.
Cameron Smith was floored by the ‘flu in the lead-up to that game at Etihad. He played way below his brilliant best and it had a domino effect on the big guns around him.
The skipper was ‘late’ for some play-the-balls, his general play kicking was off beam and we saw only a few darts through the rucks that are very much Smith’s stock in trade.
As a result, Queensland’s irrepressible go-forward was on the blink and NSW took advantage and dominated play (but not the scoreboard) in the first half.
Cooper Cronk, Smith’s play-making sidekick, was down on his game and that had a flow-on effect for the likes of Jonathan Thurston, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater.
If you know rugby league, do you think the Maroons could possibly be so down in so many crucial areas two games in a row, and with so much at stake? As a proud New South Welshman, I would love to predict a turnaround when hostilities resume at NSW’s home ground but I can’t see it.
It’s almost become a cliche but Queensland is fielding one of the finest Origin teams in history. The Blues had a chance to beat them on a night when they were off colour but could only manage a couple of tries from kicks.
Refereeing decisions did not help the Blues in Melbourne but they weren’t the reason Ricky Stuart’s boys crashed and burned in a game they should have claimed. They picked a team to score 20-plus points but failed miserably in that department.
NSW have lost big Tony Williams for game two and Queensland will be without Sam Thaiday. That’s even Stevens in my view.
But the injury to Thaiday means that Queensland will be able to unleash that almost unstoppable human, Dave Taylor, in the opening minutes and I can’t see the Blues’ defenders looking anything but speed bumps.
If Taylor gets up that head of steam, can you imagine what Thurston will do off the back of it?
JT got the ball 50 times in Origin One and ran only three times. It’s a safe bet he will take the line on many more times tonight in what is expected to be slowish, greasy conditions.
Kicking is sure to be a critical factor in the outcome. Again, the Queenslanders were below their lofty standards in this area in Melbourne and it’s a fair bet they’ll get it nigh on perfect tonight.
To be in this one, the Blues will need something very special from halves Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney. I’d love to say they will provide it but they will be spectators if the NSW forwards don’t rip and tear for 80 minutes.
The men from the bench are likely to have a telling impact on the final result. From where I sit, Queensland’s quartet looks far superior to the NSW four.
Anthony Watmough, one of the Blues’ perceived spearheads, must be under a serious cloud with a chronic neck injury. And Ben Creagh? Well, even he wouldn’t agree he is enjoying his best season.
Expect fireworks tonight. Both teams feature some very big boppers and tempers will flare, and on more than one occasion.
In NSW’s favour is a weather-battered home ground, quite possibly an 80,000 crowd and their referee of choice, Tony Archer, but I don’t think it will be enough.
My tip: Queensland by 12 and sadly, a 2-0 series stranglehold.