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State of Origin: Five talking points from Game 1, 2017

James Tedesco celebrates during Game 1. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
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31st May, 2017
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The New South Wales Blues have cruised past the Queensland Maroons in Game 1 of the 2017 State of Origin series, scoring five tries to one to take a massive advantage out of the opener.

In what was an outstanding opening half of rugby league, a late flurry of attack from both sides ended with Mitchell Pearce crossing on the stroke of halftime to take a 12-4 lead at the break.

In the second stanza, Queensland just couldn’t keep up, falling to a 28-4 defeat in a very tough opening to the series for the defending champions.

More State of Origin Game 1 coverage
» EXPERT REACTION: Queensland’s dynasty is over
» Match report: Blues’ onslaught stuns Maroons in their own back yard
» WATCH: All the Origin 1 highlights

In a game of highlights, grit, incidents, tries and plenty of action, here we are with the big talking points from the State of Origin Game 1.

Is the series already over?
It’s probably the most obvious statement ever made in the history of sport, but whoever wins Game 1 has a huge advantage going into the rest of the series.

For Queensland, a win at home would have set them up with a second home game in the series which would have been a massive mountain to climb for NSW.

For the Blues though, a win on the road in a series with two games in Brisbane is a massive coup, one that means they can travel to Sydney with all the confidence in the world.

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A win at Lang Park for NSW is like hen’s teeth in this era of Queensland dominance but the Blues made it look easy, breaking away in the second half and taking the win and the momentum into the rest of the series.

Queenland just looked off. They weren’t as aggressive, they didn’t show as much fight, they just didn’t look up to the task.

Now, those are all media happy terms that commentators love to throw out there, but it’s true.

New South Wales looked the better side by a solid margin in the end and the final scoreline shows that. They took control of the game and once they got their noses in front, Queensland fell apart.

The most telling sign came midway through second half when Queensland were throwing the ball around all over the place right on the line on the last tackle. New South Wales were outnumbered and broken in defence, but they somehow found a way to keep them out, despite a string of overlaps.

Again, when Josh Dugan denied Aidan Guerra in the final ten minutes, that defensive desperation was clearly on display. Even with a handy lead and time running out, Dugan still gave it everything to slap the ball down from behind to save the day.

Just as coming to Brisbane is a huge hurdle for NSW, going down to Sydney having just been routed at home and needing to win to keep the series alive is a huge challenge for Queensland.

At this rate, the Maroons are in big trouble and the series could already have been decided after the first 80 minutes of Origin footy in 2017.

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Andrew Fifita tore it up
Andrew Fifita is a fairly polarising figure at the best of times, with his controversies sometimes overshadowing his play on the field. Not this time.

His opening 40 minutes alone was a standout effort in the midst of one of the best Origin opening halves in recent memory.

Queensland just couldn’t bring him down and they paid the price for it, allowing him to drag the defence forward and free his arms for the offload, an offload that found that grateful hands of James Maloney who dashed away for the opening try of the series.

Despite looking a little shaky from a head knock, he was back up and at it in no time, racking up big metres all over the place. His ability to make ground after the first impact was something Queensland simply didn’t contain well enough, and also led to Mitchell Pearce’s try.

Fifita was rewarded 55 minutes into the game with an absolute gift of a four-pointer after a brain fade from Justin O’Neill, who knocked on a metre out from his own line, allowing the Blues prop to scoop it up and fall over the line.

The offloads came thick and fast as Fifita continued to shred it throughout the game. He looms as Queensland’s biggest threat for the rest of the series.

Queensland are lost without JT
The halves were always going to be a big point of concern for the Maroons, who were without star Jonathan Thurston for the first time in more than a decade.

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For New South Wales, who usually go through more halves combinations than hot dinners each year, they’re used to chopping and changing. Not that it’s ever really worked for them.

For the Maroons, not having Thurston is something that hasn’t happened since 2005. No-one was expected to know how to handle his absence and it showed. The pre-game chatter about Anthony Milford or Michael Morgan taking the role only added to the confusion.

While Cooper Cronk tried his best to be his usual self and keep his side moving up the park with Cameron Smith, he just doesn’t have that pure brilliance of Thurston, nor the experience under big-game pressure or the x-factor Queensland needed.

This isn’t something that’s happened in recent times, but New South Wales undoubtedly won the battle of the halves. Yes, you read that correctly. A side with Mitchell Pearce, who missed the last quarter of the game due to a head knock, out-performed one with Cooper Cronk in the halves.

Queensland will be hoping Thurston is back and fully fit for Game 2 in three weeks’ time.

How about that opening half?
That was up one of the best, if not the best, State of Origin games in a long, long time from a pure footy standpoint.

The opening half was fast-paced, it was hard-hitting, it was intense and mistake-free.

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It was about 20 minutes before the ball finally found touch for a scrum thanks to Cameron Smith, who knew his troops needed a breather, and understandably so.

Both sides had to really earn their points and despite just the one try in the first 35 minutes, it was still highly entertaining to watch.

Cooper Cronk may have summed it up best in the postgame interview.

“That’s one of the toughest halves of football I’ve played in a long time the first half,” he said.

“It was end-to-end and one little mistake could cost you.

“That’s what’s Origin is all about.”

Is Hayne back?
Ah, Jarryd Hayne. The human headline that followed his dreams to the United States, then over to Fiji and now back to the big stage of State of Origin.

While his opening 20 minutes or so were fairly quiet, it only took a few key moments for him to kick into gear and do what he does best: perform in the Origin arena.

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A brilliant don’t argue (that’s a stiff-arm to you NFL fans of Hayne out there) on Will Chambers in the first half was followed up with another one seconds later, allowing the Titans star to find Brett Morris in open space and break away out wide.

Hayne bagged the Blues’ fifth and final try of the night in the 60th minute to seal the contest with a quarter of the match to go, celebrating with the crowd in a similar style to what we saw back in 2014.

The bullocking centre averaged double-figures for running metres every time he touched the ball, running with a purpose and strength that has looked absent at times throughout his stint with the Titans.

Hayne’s defence, while not as outstanding as his offence, held strong throughout the match. A savage tackle late in the match on his opposing centre, Justin O’Neill, was one of many defensive highlights for the Blues.

The laziness that many have accused the two-time Dally M winner of was thrown out the window. He was driven and motivated to be there, and Hayne performed and entertained throughout the match as only he can.