Concerns about rugby league’s death have been laid to rest, with the near-fatal collapse of the game no barrier to debating Mitchell Pearce’s halfback spot for the Blues.
With State of Origin looming large on the horizon, and NSW supporters full of hope, what better place to start the countdown to Game 1 than revisiting Game 3 of last year. A match the NSW Blues won 18-14.
Ask anybody what they remember from the match and a majority of punters would mention two things. Firstly, the stunning last-minute brilliance of Michael Jennings to win the match. And the ‘Leap of Ridiculousness’ from Aaron Woods during the celebrations.
Watching the whole game through, however, you’re left with a very sobering thought. Outside of that last try, it was another typical State of Origin match, with Queensland’s fingerprints all over it.
The half-time stats tell an astounding story.
The possession rate was 61 per cent NSW and 39 per cent Queensland, with the Maroons completing only eight out of 15 sets. Queensland made 194 tackles compared to 126 by NSW. The Blues were tackled in the Queensland 20-metre zone a staggering 36 times, while Queensland only managed seven forays into the NSW red zone. The penalty count was 9-1 in favour of the Blues. And for the last ten minutes of the first half, Queensland played with only 12 players due to Cooper Cronk being sin-binned for a professional fowl.
And what was the score at half time? 6-4 to NSW.
If you flipped these stats around I shudder to think how many points Queensland would have posted against NSW.
A dour second half saw NSW clinging to a 12-10 lead until the inevitable happened – a Queensland try to six minutes from full-time that saw Josh Mansour slip while attempting to cover a bomb, with the ball falling perfectly into the hands of a flying Darius Boyd. This would normally be game, set and match to Queensland. The Blues, to their credit, somehow managed to ‘do a Queensland’, snatching victory in the dying seconds courtesy of Blake Ferguson and James Tedesco combining to take play five metres out from the Queensland goal-line to pave the way for Jennings’ grandstand try.
So a word of warning, NSW supporters. Don’t go looking for hope in Game 3 of last year – it pretty much told the same old story, except for the last 20 seconds.
I’d rather go looking for hope with the appointment of Peter Sterling as an advisor to Laurie Daley. The most interesting thing come Game 1 will be whether Sterling’s appointment influences NSW’s strategy in the series.