The Kings are dead. Long live the new Kings.
While their reign only just began on Wednesday night, the NSW Blues are the new kings of Origin.
When the end came for the Queensland dynasty it was brutal and emphatic. The hollow look in Cam Smith’s eyes in the post-match interview said he knew the dream was over. He’d had a dreadful night.
More State of Origin Game 1 coverage
» Five talking points from the Blues’ Game 1 victory
» Match report: Blues’ onslaught stuns Maroons in their own back yard
» WATCH: All the Origin 1 highlights
Smith only ran the ball twice in the whole game for four metres gained. While he made 41 tackles for the match he missed seven. I can’t remember ever seeing him miss more than three.
On a night when his state needed him to stand up I didn’t see Smith much at all. When he missed the conversion following the Corey Oates try in the 37th minute you could see he looked exhausted. He looked old.
The game was played at a frenetic pace. The ball was almost constantly in play for the whole first half. Queensland have loved controlling the game and its tempo over the last decade and they’ve been great at it. However, they had no control of the first 40 and the pace was unbelievable.
As I showed in my stats preview, the players in the NSW pack have an average of over eight extra minutes per game more than their Queensland opponents this season. As well, the NSW players were on average two years younger.
By the end of the first half that difference showed. The Maroons were shattered. When Andrew Fifita once more carved through the Queensland lines he caused the chaos that directly led to the Mitchell Pearce try.
The Queensland heads went down. They knew they were in trouble. Serious trouble.
When they ran out for the second half their expressions and body language were terrible. Conversely, the Blues – chastened by a decade of being whipped and ridiculed – looked ready to cut loose. To take revenge on the team and their fans who have heaped derision upon them with so much glee.
And take revenge they did.
Five tries to one. You have to go back to 2002 to find such a big victory in the first game of a State of Origin series. NSW’s 32-4 victory at home was the last time a series opener was won so emphatically.
Further, the 24-point loss is Queensland’s heaviest ever at home in the Origin era, the previous worst being the 22-point loss in Game 3, 2005. Try as they may to keep a lid on it, the loss is sure to send panic through the ranks.
Queensland are certain to make some big changes going into Game 2 at ANZ Stadium in three weeks. This will assuredly be headlined by the return of Johnathan Thurston.
However, the magnitude of the New South Wales victory will draw a strength and self-belief to the Blues side that they haven’t had since Andrew Johns was at No.7. That is something even future Immortal JT may not be able to counter. Queensland simply could not afford to capitulate this badly.
To paraphrase Lisa Simpson, “Mr Daley, your side has the momentum of a runaway train, why are they so good?”
The odds of Queensland saving the series in Sydney on June 21 are as long as the vanquished Maroons players’ faces post-match.
The rampaging Blues brutally exposed the deficiencies caused by the retirement of Corey Parker and the absence through injury of Thurston, Matt Scott and Greg Inglis. The simple truth is that the replacements for those players just weren’t able to do the job.
As Maloney came off the field at half-time he made reference to Queensland’s “lazy middles”.
Maloney was right that NSW had taken advantage of the Marron pack’s defensive deficiencies in scoring both their first-half tries. However, the Queensland forwards weren’t lazy. Far from it, they were trying their guts out.
It was far worse than that. They weren’t good enough. The game was incredibly fast and their mixture of rookie players and ageing veterans were exposed by a far better side entering its prime.
While Dane Gagai and Josh Papalii were extremely good, there were too many anonymous players for Queensland and there were no match winners. You can bet your house that Billy Slater will be in the side for Origin 2. He is a match winner.
The utter stupidity and arrogance of the selectors in not picking Slater is now clear. What on earth were they thinking? He may have been out for two seasons but he’s come back as good as ever.
This year he’s averaging 120 metres, 4.5 tackle breaks and two offloads a game. As well he’s made six line break assists, six line breaks and eight try assists. How he was left out with these stats – along with the 27 games of Origin experience he boasts – is beyond me.
And that’s just the start of Queensland’s baffling selections.
The wisdom of picking the almost 32-year-old Nate Myles as a starting prop when he’s playing off the bench for Manly was questionable from the outset. While Myles is tough as hell in defence, he was unable to make any impact in attack and was one of the players left in Fifita’s wake in the lead up to Maloney’s try.
Similarly, Jacob Lillyman should have played his last Origin match. His form for the woeful Warriors has been pedestrian this year. He made no impact on the game. I have no idea why he was favoured over the very in-form Jarrod Wallace.
Aidan Guerra is another player who was picked off a club side’s bench. His performance was insipid and he’ll likely be replaced by Coen Hess. He shouldn’t have been selected.
Justin O’Neill will almost certainly not wear maroon again. Not only did he miss eight tackles, his dropped ball led to the Fifita try. Slater will return at fullback, Darius Boyd will go to the wing and Gagai to centre.
While Sam Thaiday, at almost 32, is nearly done at Origin level, and was only okay in this match, he’ll likely feature in Game 2. I also expect to see Matt Gillett, as his seven missed tackles were uncharacteristic.
It is assumed that Anthony Milford will make way for the returning Thurston. However, Milford was dangerous in attack at times and pretty good in defence. Conversely, Michael Morgan was unseen in attack and missed a massive eight tackles.
Cooper Cronk played as well as ever. What chance Queensland had, he provided. However, his troops weren’t able to provide the support he needed to best a determined and often rampant Blues side. And, of course, Cam Smith went missing.
However, don’t get me wrong, the Blues didn’t win because Queensland were bad, they won because they played brilliantly.
As the telecast moved into post-match, Channel Nine commentator Ray Warren said he thought it would be a tough job choosing a man of the match, such was the great team performance. I don’t know about you but it was clear that Andrew Fifita was the best and most influential player on the field.
His superb runs set up the James Maloney try in the seventh minute and the Mitchell Pearce try in the 40th. Queensland simply had no answer for his power, strength, speed and offloads.
Still, it was a fantastic team effort. It is a tough job identifying the NSW players who didn’t have great games. I guess Josh Dugan’s eight missed tackles weren’t what you want, but he was still pretty good. Jack Bird didn’t really have a chance to shine, but he didn’t get anything wrong either.
However, the rest were great to outstanding.
Nathan Peats’ service from dummy half and his ruck defence were brilliant. The sharp, flat balls he delivered constantly gave the receiving players a massive advantage. Aaron Woods worked really hard. Boyd Cordner played a true captain’s game.
Tyson Frizell was tough as usual, as was Josh Jackson. David Klemmer off the bench made massive metres and hit hard in defence. Wade Graham was dangerous whenever he was near the ball and Jake Trbojevic handled his Origin debut as well as Bradley Clyde did in 1989.
In the backs, James Tedesco was superb in defence and ever dangerous in attack. Blake Ferguson made big metres. Brett Morris more than justified his selection and Jarryd Hayne is still most certainly a big-game player.
Until he got his head smashed by Gillett’s shoulder, Pearce looked every bit an Origin halfback. His organisation and direction of the side was exceptional. No one will be calling for his sacking today – or, if they are, they don’t know much about rugby league. And James Maloney – although he missed eight tackles – excelled in attack.
The Blues just looked great.
For years Queensland have been relying on a core of champion players to bring them victory. But age has wearied and the years condemned.
Last night we saw the beginning of the end of their unforgettable era – and we may never see a dynasty like it again – as a rampant NSW side invaded the Queensland heartland and put their heroes to the sword.
The Kings are dead. Long live the new Kings.