Tough questions ahead for Maroons
Queensland players celebrate a try by Billy Slater. AAP Image/Paul Miller
NSW has deservedly defeated champion XXXX Queensland Maroons to level this year’s State of Origin series at 1-1. NSW played with the intensity and fire one has come to expect of a State of Origin side.
Fuelled by an aggression their opponents somehow lacked, they proved too good last Wednesday night.
From the game’s opening exchange, when massive debutant Tim Grant knocked struggling veteran Petero Civoniceva to the ground, it was clear the NSW players were ready to rumble.
The game was on and they meant business.
Indeed, aside from typically inauspicious contributions from deservedly unsung Dragons duo Ben Creagh and Trent Merrin, the entire NSW forward pack took on their Maroon rivals with brutally raw intensity.
While I can only assume everyone south of the border is in raptures over Todd Carney’s fantastic second-half burst, it was the NSW forward pack that actually led the team to victory.
In what was once again a dour attacking contest (clean breaks from Carney and Hayne aside), it was the forward collisions that turned out to offer the game’s most thrilling moments.
It was here that NSW dominated the match.
As a Maroons fan, it is heart-wrenching to concede this, but Queensland were out-enthused and out-muscled for much of the contest.
With Sam Thaiday absent and Dave Taylor still struggling to produce anything of note in a Queensland jersey, Queensland’s forward pack was hard-working but out-gunned.
Incumbency has been a significant factor in Queensland selections in recent years.
Yet after two consecutive losing forward battles (some magic from our backline and the referees saved the Maroons in game one), it seems the time has come for Queensland selectors to do some serious thinking.
Ashley Harrison has been a fine servant for Queensland, but can we really afford to carry him alongside similar workers such as Nate Myles and Corey Parker?
Speaking of fantastic servants, is Petero Civoniceva still the man to be leading our forward pack into battle?
I don’t know the answers here, but I’m personally beginning to wonder if impact players like Ben Te’o, Josh McGuire and Neville Costigan might be worth a run.
In game two, NSW were the better side for the 80 minutes and thoroughly deserved their victory.
Despite the endless stream of nonsense Ricky Stuart subjects us to in the press, it seems he is doing plenty right for the Blues.
In their efforts over the past two seasons they have regained the respect of their rivals and reignited the passion of their state.
However, even taking all of this into account, with 10 minutes left and the Queenslanders within a converted try of victory, a certain inevitability began to creep in.
“Here they come again…”
Despite Queensland looking the best they had all match (where had that intensity and enthusiasm been earlier?), NSW’s players were able to repel both their rivals on the field and the demons in their heads to hold on to the lead.
It was an impressive effort that will have Queensland wondering about how to approach game three.
Indeed, while NSW looked shaky for a period, by the game’s end they were dominating in tackles.
They drove the panicked Queensland attack backwards. How often has that occurred in recent years?
So the question here is: how do Queensland approach game three?
Should they trust in what they are doing – what they have been doing for seven incredibly successful years – and change nothing?
Or should they acknowledge that NSW have had the ascendancy in both games this year and look for change?
Injuries will force their hand in some respects. For instance, the Maroons need a new fullback.
Or will they shift Inglis and instead need a new centre?
But will that be enough? Can the return of Thaiday turn the fortunes of our forward pack around on its own or do we need to find him some more support?
I take a deep breath before asking this one, but has Cooper Cronk done enough to keep his spot?
Is his combination with Thurston working?
These are questions all Queenslanders will be pondering over the next few weeks, furrowing a brow in contemplation as they watch the likely lads going around in the NRL.
For NSW, everything is rosey.
They’ve just put up their best Origin performance in memory (I’m certain it eclipses the Gallen-inspired victory of 2011).
They’re injury-free and they want game three to arrive now.
Queensland, on the other hand, will be happy for the breather.
However, the breathes taken in around the selection table could be about to get quite deep.
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