New South Wales have taken a one-nil lead in the 2018 State of Origin series with a hard-fought 22-12 win over Queensland in Game 1.
A grinding opening hour had the game in the absolute balance before the baby Blues ran away with a late try against a tiring Maroons outfit.
With 14 debutants, long-range tries and the shadow of a dynasty hovering over the game, here are six talking points from Game 1.
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Has Maloney and Cleary put an end to the revolving door of halves pairings?
There are not enough digits on your hands and feet to count the amount of different halves combinations New South Wales have tried in the past 13 years.
This is a point and a question raised after nearly every single game in that same period, but is this FINALLY the pairing that will stick?
Maloney is the old dog with all the class and experience to anchor a very, very young side and Cleary is the young prodigy making his way in the game and learning on the run.
While full of potential and natural talent, at just 20-years of age, the son of Ivan is still green at the top level.
A perfect example of the combination clicking to a degree was Cleary’s kicking game.
It left a lot to be desired and it showed early in the game as he struggled to find open space and anything of note in terms of distance. Enter Maloney.
With a level head, the Panthers playmaker took over duties and put on a masterclass in the second half in particular, finding touch, plenty of green grass to keep the Maroons on the back foot and, more importantly, take the pressure off Cleary to concentrate on the rest of the game.
As the backline began to run rampant in the second stanza, the connection, vision and understanding began to show.
They didn’t get in each others way and they just made things work. That’s all they needed to do, was make things work and they can improve as a combination as the series goes on.
It’s no Johns-Fitler, but there are certainly promising signs.
Queensland make baby steps covering the post-Big 4 era
The day was always going to come where the famed dynasty would die down.
Many believed it would align with the absence of the big four and their stranglehold on the hapless New South Wales defence year after year… after year.
Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. That’s 42, 37, 38 and 29 Origin games respectively.
While Slater will – further injury aside – play another role in his legendary rep career, Queensland is now without the 117 games of experience that came with the other three aforementioned legends.
In stark contrast, Ben Hunt, Cameron Munster and Andrew McCullough had a whole four rep games between them leading into Game 1, including McCullough making his debut.
It wasn’t the disaster many were predicting leading up to the game but you better believe there’s still a lot of work to do.
McCullough was zippy around the ruck, if not a little afraid to play out of his comfort zone, in a reasonable debut that was neither outstanding nor disastrous.
Hunt was arguably the best of the new halves pairing as Munster struggled with inconsistency despite a few highlight moments pushing to the right side.
They just didn’t match the opposition halves but much like Maloney and Cleary, there’s time and room for improvement to come and Queensland should have faith that the loss of the big four should be celebration for a new wave of talent.
Not sure why, but Inglis really had it out for Tom Trbojevic
Greg Inglis just bullied Tom Trbojevic in Game 1. Plain and simple.
In the first half, two crunching impacts stood out in particular.
The first being a monstrous display of strength, literally picking up the young man off the ground and body slamming him back to the turf.
The second being an absolute monster of a hit rushing out of the line, giving the poor Manly star’s ribs a painful welcome to the Origin arena, and despite him being called for offside, Inglis let him know that he has his number and there will be no free rides on this side of the field.
Again in the second half, Inglis came back to haunt Trbojevic, this time under the high ball, as if he had a personal vendetta against the poor bloke as his ribs continued to take a beating
If that wasn’t enough, GI continued one of his best games at Origin level in a long time, pulling off a borderline assault on poor little Nathan Cleary who could do nothing but look up from his hospital pass and cop one.
Inglis might be one of the last men standing from the dynasty era but he certainly had a point to prove as the new skipper and an elder statesman of the side.
If there’s one thing New South Wales know for Game 2, it’s that Greg Inglis is still a force to be reckoned with.
In a sea of debutants, who belongs in Origin and who gets washed away?
Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts, Josh Addo-Carr, Nathan Cleary, Damien Cook, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Jack de Belin, Paul Vaughan, Angus Crichton and Tyrone Peachey for the Blues.
Andrew McCullough, Felise Kaufusi and Jai Arrow for Queensland.
To have 14 debutants in one game is something very extraordinary and rare in any sport, yet here we sit, 80 minutes after kickoff and we now know who belongs and who might be looking at a short career at this level.
Obviously with a win, New South Wales are harder to criticise than their opponents but there was barely a poor performance among those with a zero next to their name before the game began.
There were those who were quiet, looking at you Tyrone Peachy, but few had a genuinely bad game and that is promising for both coaches leading into Game 2.
Trbojevic, times two, had strong outings as did Damien Cook who set up the first try of the game with some very smart running from the ruck.
The Blues electric backline took a little time to fully charge but they have a mountain of skill to work with and showed signs of bigger things in the future as they began to open up the Maroons late in the game.
McCullough was less impactful as his opposite number in the hooker ranks but again, not a bad outing in what was generally a strong showing from all who wore the jersey for the first time.
Kaufusi didn’t make the impact out wide against the smaller defenders that was anticipated and Jai Arrow will need to show a lot more if he is to keep his spot after a non-descript performance.
Queenslands defence was… well, bad
Missed tackles. 53 of them.
Two words, one coach killer.
The men from north of the border had a near-laughable amount of missed tackles for one game of footy. It’s hard to tell whether it’s a testament to their scramble defence, or the Blues’ inability to make the most of those chances that kept the scoreline from ballooning away from them.
That’s an insane amount of tackles to miss if you’re expecting to win a game, highlighting the cracks many were pin-pointing in the leadup to the game as Queenslands defence were predicted to struggle against the more fancied New South Wales backline.
Hang on, the refs weren’t the biggest talking point?
An added talking point. The refs weren’t a talking point!
Some suspect forward pass calls early in the second half, leading to Queensland scoring just two and a half minutes after the break aside, the referee debacle leading into the game was left relatively untouched.
While Matt Cecchin should have most definitely been given the reigns on this one, there were no huge controversies or terrible decisions that were louder than the game itself.
Any game not overshadowed by officiating is a good one in my books.