David Fifita has briefly addressed the media after touching down at Brisbane airport following a three-day stint in a Bali jail.
Welcome back to The Roar’s State of Origin key questions series where we look at three questions for each team ahead of the Wednesday Night’s Game Two. Today we will look at Queensland while tomorrow we will cover NSW.
For Queensland we will consider whether the loss of Nate Myles is much of a loss at all, discuss the Maroons’ conservative game plan in Origin 1 and ask what’s up with all the health scares in Queensland camp.
» Laurie Daley doesn’t appoint the referees, but it wasn’t always that way
» State of Origin Game 2: Why NSW will win
» State of Origin Game 2: Why Queensland will win
» State of Origin Game 2: Expert tips and predictions
» State of Origin key questions: NSW edition
Question One: No Nate, no problem?
At the time of writing the only change for the Queensland side from the team that edged to victory in Game 1 is the inclusion of Jacob Lillyman in place of the injured Nate Myles.
Myles has been a tried and tested member of the Queensland team having played in all but one game over the last decade of dominance for Queensland. However, as we highlighted in the Key Questions column before Game 1 this year, he was already under considerable pressure to retain his spot in the team.
His raw statistics for Manly this season are lacklustre at best. He is averaging just 86.4m per game on slightly less than ten carries per game. Five other Sea Eagle forwards are performing better in that category and though in defence he is making his fair share of tackles with a robust average of 28.9, his attacking stats are quite simply not the statistics of an Origin prop.
In particular it his lack of carries that is most concerning as most elite props are well into the teens in carries per game and players like Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen closer to 20 carries.
Meanwhile, Jacob Lillyman, who will replace Myles in the Queensland team, has enjoyed a strong season for the roller coaster Warriors. Lillyman is averaging 120m per game on a solid 14 carries and has been particularly strong in recent weeks (with the exception of the game against the Raiders in which pretty much all of the Warriors players failed to impress).
Lillyman was also fantastic in his last appearance for Queensland in the Game 3 shellacking in 2015 as he pounded the ball up the middle of the field again and again.
On that basis Lillyman was an easy call up for Myles with the only question being whether he would go straight into the starting line-up or alternatively would he come onto the bench with either Josh Papalii or Josh McGuire promoted to start.
While one could make a strong case for putting Lillyman’s considerable club and State experience into the starting line-up as of this moment Coach Kevin Walters has indicated that McGuire will start allowing Lillyman to come off the bench along with Papalii. This will allow Lillyman and Papalii to renew a bench middle unit partnership that wrought utter destruction in Game 3 last season.
Question Two: Will they get out of the grind?
While the narrative coming out of Origin 1 focused on the struggles of the NSW playmakers to generate points, it is worth noting that Queensland were hardly excitement machines either.
Indeed Queensland actually had slightly more possession, kicked for slightly more metres and ran for only a handful fewer metres than NSW. With that share of possession and territory it is worth asking the question why didn’t this juggernaut of a Queensland team post more points?
Certainly the sludgy surface didn’t help but a conservative game plan also contributed. The team had 161 play the balls yet only recorded a cumulative 429 touches.
This means that for every play the ball the team recorded only 2.6 touches and when you consider that dummy half to first receiver is two touches it suggests that the play was deliberately kept quite tight to the ruck, what is often referred to as one-out running.
NSW meanwhile had with 452 touches from their 155 play the balls for a rate of 2.9 touches per play the ball. While a 0.3 difference doesn’t sound like a lot, it does actually reflect a considerable increase with most club games falling somewhere in a 2.5 to 3 touch per team range. This places Queensland near the bottom and NSW near the top.
For example consider the recent free flowing Cowboys versus Sharks Monday night game in which the Cowboys at times seemed utterly cavalier with the ball and still only went at went at 3.1 touches per game while the Sharks were at 2.7 touches per play
Further evidence of the conservative approach for Queensland was the offload statistics which showed that NSW also offloaded the ball far more often with nine compared to the Maroons’ four.
Yet this is not meant as a criticism of Queensland in of itself. A conservative, grinding game plan in slippery conditions and in a high stakes game probably makes sense. Certainly it got the job for Queensland, But with a dry surface and a one game advantage surely we can expect the Maroons to break free of the shackles a little more this time round?
Question Three: What’s up with the constant health scares?
Finally we get to questions three and with a team as dominant as Queensland have been for the last decade, we sadly run out of key questions pretty quickly.
That’s because they’ve answered pretty much every conceivable questions already. Whatever NSW have tried over the last decade Queensland have been ready, willing and able to respond to.
However the one thing they don’t ever seem to be able to do is have an Origin camp without some sort of injury or illness drama. Before Game 1 it was Cooper Cronk’s ankle, this time it was a virus that was reported to be “ripping through” the camp. Last year before Game 2 it was Billy Slater’s shoulder and Greg Inglis’ chest infection.
Now I’m by no means putting on the tin foil hat and accusing the Queenslanders of inventing these injuries or illnesses.
One look at the close up of Cronk’s ankle from Game 1 is enough to dispel that sort of silliness. Also the fact that Slater went on to miss the rest of the season after his pre-Origin injury would suggest pretty hard core commitment to playing out the charade if indeed the injury was manufactured.
But for whatever reason the Queensland Origin camp is always beset by some sort of trial and tribulation. Perhaps after all these years of dominance the team has even sub-consciously taken to exaggerating things to give themselves a hurdle to overcome. To make things worse than they are ignite the competitive fire.
If only New South Wales could pose a similar challenge to them in the game itself.