Reflections on State of Origin Game 2, 2005

Edward L'Orange Roar Pro

By , Edward L'Orange is a Roar Pro

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    With the footy season over for another year, I found myself forced to reflect on what could only be called a disappointing year for NSW.

    Not that the state rivalry needs to be endlessly rehashed – I look forward to cheering on the Queensland stars in green and gold. But without a NSW team in the grand final for two of the last three years, and Queensland again getting the hat-trick of State of Origin victories, I find myself thinking back to better times.

    For me, times did not get much better for NSW than the 2005 Origin series. Particularly Game 2 of that series was remarkable, and I was very happy to search and find the entire game on YouTube.

    A must-win for NSW, this game has gone down as one of Andrew Johns’ greatest displays on the field. Coming back from injury, and having played only nine games in the previous two seasons, Johns guided the Blues to a 32-22 point win with brilliant long passes, sharp attacking runs, and a simply terrifying kicking game.

    Rewatching the game, it was bizarre, and wonderful, to see a team with the spine of Cam Smith, Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater get schooled by a team in blue.

    But I also found it interesting to take away a few reflections from this game: about certain players, about the time, but also about our modern game over 12 years later. Of course, one game alone can only say so much, particularly an Origin game, but for what it’s worth, here are 20 unrelated musings taken from Game 2, State of Origin 2005.

    Billy Slater has always been a remarkably skilful and incredibly quick player, arguably the best fullback of the modern era. But he has also always had an aspect of shenanigans to his game. A couple of examples from this game? How about a sneaky rake over the sideline in the ninth minute, which he got away with, or a sly kick of the ball after a penalty in the 38th, which he did not.

    Billy Slater runs the ball for the Maroons in State of Origin

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Matt King was a very very good player who had a hell of a game that night. Tall, fast, and strong, he even managed to run down Billy Slater in full flight.

    Cameron Smith developed a brilliantly cunning kicking game very early in his career, particularly the early to space.

    This game has to be the last time Slater, or any indeed fullback, ever left a ball near the goalpost. For those who have forgotten, in the 14th minute, Andrew Johns took a kick from the 35 towards the goalpost. It hit, of course, and resulted in a rebound which was picked up by Anthony Minichiello. Slater didn’t even get a hand on him.

    Forward passes actually used to exist.

    The game is faster now, but not that much faster. I was expecting to see big lumbering hits and slow play the balls, but I was surprised to see the pace of this game. It is to be expected that the game is faster today. After all, we are often told the speed of our game is crucial and measures have taken accordingly to ensure its quickness. But it is certainly not that much faster.

    The commentators used try to justify the ref’s decisions, rather than openly criticise them for any mistakes.

    Hands on the ball and wrestling tactics to slow the play-the-ball were very much evident in 2005. It makes me think that blaming Craig Bellamy and that “successful” Melbourne Storm team of the late 2000s is a bit unfounded.

    Blokes are more muscular now, and look fitter. I suppose this is to be expected with advances in fitness and sports science.

    Andrew Johns’ long pass is a bit forgotten in light of his kicking. Passing the ball long to tire the forwards was a good technique, and I wonder why it is no longer used as much.

    I’d forgotten about the hilarious Brad Thorn situation. A Kiwi plays origin for Queensland, quits league to play rugby for New Zealand and then he came back and plays for Queensland again. Go figure.

    The players did not dive, or try to cheat anywhere near as much. I was seeing players offside or in the play-the-ball area, and the attacking team didn’t try to fall over them, or even throw the ball at them. I was shocked.

    There is significantly more diversity in Origin these days.

    Cameron Smith and Darren Lockyer were all brains and tactics, leading games with cunning and nous. Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater were all speed and guts. All dynamos who have an instinctive feel for the game that would make many NRL players weep.

    Luke Rooney was a good player, who I had completely forgotten. I wonder what other good players will slip out of the general consciousness over time? Michael Jennings comes to mind.

    Forwards have a larger part to play in the game today, and skill sets between forwards and backs are more even.

    There were not as many penalties around the play-the-ball in 2005. I saw a number of instances at which I thought “that’s a penalty”. They weren’t. And not only were they not, no one seems to have expected them to be, suggesting it was not just Origin.

    Ray Warren made basic mistakes even back then, to the point that he called Andrew Johns ‘Mathew’ with no correction. I don’t think it’s just age.

    Thurston was always tough as nails. He was a bit nippier back in 2005, but even after being utterly smashed in the 66th minute, he just got up and got on with it. What a competitor.

    Finally, having watched the quality of this game, I think both teams, given the same conditioning and support, would beat their 2017 counterparts.

    NSW team
    Anthony Minichiello, Matt King, Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper, Luke Rooney, Braith Anasta, Andrew Johns, Steve Simpson, Danny Buderus (c), Jason Ryles, Nathan Hindmarsh, Craig Fitzgibbon, Ben Kennedy.

    Interchange: Craig Wing, Steve Menzies, Luke Bailey, Andrew Ryan, Coach: Ricky Stuart

    Queensland team
    Billy Slater, Ty Williams, Shaun Berrigan, Paul Bowman, Matt Sing, Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston, Brad Thorn, Cameron Smith, Petero Civoniceva, Michael Crocker, Carl Webb, Chris Flannery.

    Interchange: Ben Ross, Dane Carlaw, Casey McGuire, Matt Bowen. Coach: Michael Hagan

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