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A few coaching hints for the Queensland Maroons ahead of Origin 3

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

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    You can thank us later, Kevvie. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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    This Wednesday night’s State of Origin Game 3 is a dead rubber with the New South Wales Blues already sealing the series with a 22-12 win in Game 1 at the MCG and an 18-14 victory in Game 2 at ANZ Stadium.

    The Blues have not won the series in a clean sweep for 18 years. Even when Queensland were at their most dominant, the Maroons also only managed the clean sweep once in 11 years.

    The Maroons will want to win this game desperately – not only to restore some pride, but also to farewell Billy Slater appropriately. On Wednesday, Slater will play his 31st and final Origin game and he has been named captain with Greg Inglis out due to injury.

    But for the Maroons to have any chance of toppling the Blues on Wednesday night, Kevin Walters needs to rethink some of his coaching strategies. In the first two games, he made some significant errors which proved very costly for Queensland.

    In the past, what has made Queensland so successful is picking players in position and selecting a team, rather than a group of individuals. When Kevin Walters selected Kalyn Ponga for Game 2, he picked him out of position ‘just because he had to be there’.

    Let me be clear. Ponga was outstanding in Game 2. He did the role he was asked to do and did it exceptionally well. He was unfazed by the Origin arena and I look forward to seeing him in Maroon for many years to come.

    But unfortunately, when Walters brought Ponga on, he disrupted what had been working for Queensland so effectively in the first 25 minutes, which was playing through the forwards, giving Slater the ball and then Slater attacking the edges through Will Chambers, Dane Gagai and Valentine Holmes.

    Any time Chambers got the ball in his hand, he managed to get outside Latrell Mitchell. In almost every circumstance it led to a try or a disallowed try.

    A smart football team would have continued to target the weak edge that had been so exposed.

    This strategy was working and New South Wales were struggling to keep up.

    But instead of recognising that and encouraging that to continue, Walters brought Ponga on which saw the game plan change immediately.

    Kalyn Ponga

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Ponga played in the middle which forced Slater into first receiver. After that happened, the ball did not make it out wide for the rest of the game. Additionally, because Ben Hunt is a half that prefers to run rather than giving early ball, Walters’ error of judgement was compounded.

    Unfortunately, Ponga will not be playing Game 3 due to injury, so fortunately Walters won’t be able to disrupt the game plan in that way again.

    So hopefully he sticks to what worked in Game 2 and encourages Slater and new halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to give good early ball to the outside backs.

    Bringing Ponga on and using him in that way was an example of Walters not playing what was in front of him and sticking to a pre-meditated strategy.

    What helped the Blues so much, particularly in Game 2, was Brad Fittler playing and coaching what was in front of him.

    Very early we saw Fittler make a decision to stop playing his props. Matt Prior saw very little football during the game. Instead, Jack de Belin and Tyson Frizell played three stints each. When Fittler saw Walters was playing Ponga in the middle he realised he did not need big players to contest that area of the park. This strategy worked for the Blues.

    Brad Fittler

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    How Walters uses his forwards will also have a big impact on this game. Josh McGuire, Jai Arrow and Josh Papalii are all in the run-on side. That’s a good start and for Queensland’s sake, I hope they stay on the field together for plenty of the game.

    In Game 2, McGuire also started and was one the Maroons’ most effective forwards. He was taken off in the 50th minute and did not return for the rest of the game.

    For most of the second half, the Queensland middle was Coen Hess, Kalyn Ponga and Jai Arrow. It’s unclear why Walters opted for this middle instead of having McGuire, Arrow and Papalii on the field at the same time.

    It was particularly baffling, because Ponga was Queensland’s most used middle forward. When it came to later in the game when Ponga could have had a real impact, he was absolutely exhausted. I wonder whether, had he had fresh legs, Ponga would have scored from that break he made late in the game rather than being chased down.

    By the time it got to the 78th minute, Walters had only used five interchanges. He brought Papalii on with two minutes to go which was a waste. McGuire and Wallace remained on the bench despite the game being exceptionally fast-paced and Queensland needing fresh legs.

    But what the Maroons need the most in this game is for their experienced players to step up in the absence of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk and steady the ship. It was so clear that what was most missing for Queensland in Game 2 were some basic footy smarts and someone to tell the team to be patient rather than kicking on the third tackle directly to James Tedesco.

    This is where Daly Cherry-Evans must also step up.

    I’m still tipping a Blues clean sweep on Wednesday night and quite convincingly at that. The shackles will be off for New South Wales and I look forward to seeing them playing some fast, fun, exciting football and ruin the party for Billy Slater.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (36)

    • Roar Guru

      July 9th 2018 @ 7:53am
      Matt H said | July 9th 2018 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      Thanks for you advice Mary. If only you had been here for us over the past 12 years…

    • July 9th 2018 @ 8:08am
      Paul said | July 9th 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      You make some very interesting and astute points, Mary. You talk about Fiddler coaching what was in front of him, surely players too, must play what’s in front of them? This is perhaps what you were referring to when you’re talking about using “basic footy smarts”.

      At what point do the really experienced players say to themselves “the plan isn’t working, but if we try this, we’re a chance”. Smith, Thurston and co could do that and make it work. No reason why the same can’t happen this week for either side. As you pointed out, coaches make mistakes too. It’s up to the players to make those “mistakes” work in their favour, if they can.

    • July 9th 2018 @ 8:41am
      Forty Twenty said | July 9th 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      I think Pongas introduction coincided with NSW getting their act together defensively and didn’t disrupt QLD’S attack as has been widely reported. NSW started to charge up and cut the passes off as the ball was being shifted wide as evidenced by the Mitchel hit on Munster. NSW started the game as Lambs to the slaughter and we were lucky Ponga wasn’t out there at the start. His long run for a near try almost won QLD the series and he was unlucky to be chased by the quickest players on the field.

      The main factor in NSW being 2 wins up in the series to me has been two individual tries from Mitchell. A simplistic view perhaps but that’s my belief. Two tries that would not have been scored if he wasn’t selected.

      It’s funny how a close win can rewrite history. The QLD forwards appeared to be on top for most of the two games and the stats back that up. We are just lucky Cameron Smith retired. Winning SOO has little to do with coaching but plenty to do with the players. Bellamy lost three series in a row.

      • July 9th 2018 @ 12:19pm
        SHORT MEMORY said | July 9th 2018 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

        QLD forwards did appear to be on top early. But that was rather illusory. The stats don’t back it up. QLD forwards made less meteres and missed more tackles in both games. Their offloads were also down. The big terrotory gains were made by the QLD outside backs (not uncommon in the modern game – but shouldn’t be confused with forwards dominating). Where the QLD forwards looked better than NSW was in their aggression and line speed pinning NSW at their own end. Gus Gould pointed this out in the commentary and offered his opinion (suprise) that NSW should be doing the same. However, it’s possible that this strategy backfired on the Maroons. By the last 15 minutes of the game, the QLD backs were gassed from carrying the forwards load in making metres – allowing NSW to score out wide with power and speed. And the QLD forwards were heavy in the legs from constantly tying to put maximum explosive effort into tackles – allowing NSW to carve them up in the middle. NSW divided the work of making metres more evenly between forwards and backs (check the stats if you doubt this) and focused on keeping a straight line in defence in the forwards rather than racing in to belt the Maroons in gang tackles. They were efficient rather than brutal. It might not have excited Gus Gould, but the end result was that in the final 15 minutes, NSW had the energy reserves left across the park to put the foot to the metal and ran away with the game. They did this in both Game 1 and 2. It will be interesting to see if they continue the same tactic in Game 3, or if they go out with the intention to give it to the QLD forwards in a more traditional Origin bash-fest. Can’t wait to find out.

        • July 9th 2018 @ 1:41pm
          Forty Twenty said | July 9th 2018 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

          I don’t doubt your stats and was unaware of some of them but I’m not sure you would chose to have your opponents aggressively dominate your forwards in SOO to preserve energy for the last 10 or 15 minutes. The game probably should have been over by then and with Smith still at hooker would have been I suggest.

          NSW dominated the forward exchange in game 1 last year but QLD cut them down in the next 2 so I find it hard to believe it is a good idea in general.

          A key moment I believe in game 2 was the sin binning of the Jet. For a lot of players on the 12 player team it produces a better performance and often causes a degree of panic in the full strength out fit because everyone thinks they should score.

          The Turbo brothers at Manly have a hell of a record when down a player and even last year when we were getting hammered by Saints we were looking like possible winners when we lost a player to the bin and scored several tries to narrow the gap

          It’s an interesting take that the QLD forwards were more gassed than NSW in the last 10 or so despite their backs helping out markedly with yardage and I’m not convinced that they were.

          Both the QLD backs and forwards were more gassed at the end of the game?

          • July 9th 2018 @ 4:19pm
            Short Memory said | July 9th 2018 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

            QLD forwards had less impact and were more vulnerable in the final 15 mins, so yeah, my reading of that is that they were gassed. I put that down to all the explosive effort trying to bash the Blues. It happens – used to be a pretty common problem with the Warriors.
            And, yeah, the outside backs were doing a lot more heavy lifting in terms of making metres – and they seemed to be down a bit on energy in defense in the final 10 minutes. All this is just my opinion and could be totally off the mark.
            No argument that Smith (or Thurston) would have got QLD home.

            • July 9th 2018 @ 7:07pm
              Concussed said | July 9th 2018 @ 7:07pm | ! Report

              They were gassed from exertion during defence, or from the non rotation of the interchange bench as highlighted.

              • July 10th 2018 @ 3:44am
                Graham said | July 10th 2018 @ 3:44am | ! Report

                Incidentally Fifita got scapegoated last year for their origin loss but a few minutes before he made his key defensive mistake I said “he’s had a great game but him and woods need to be subbed”. His coach let him down and then he got the blame

                I was pretty glad he was scapegoated and didn’t get selected this year. He amazingly dominated even when QLD got their defensive structure right. So many times he would make meters with 3 tackling him or make a dangerous offload.

        • July 10th 2018 @ 3:19am
          Graham said | July 10th 2018 @ 3:19am | ! Report

          Queensland usually play a style of the 4 roll. The forwards conserve energy walking back on side bunched up (cue Guus “you could throw a towell over them”) while their backs take dummy half runs for tackle 2 and 3 before everyone gets in position for tackle 4 and 5. This means there is 2 less hit ups a set for the Queensland forwards. They then have a bunch of aggressive tacklers who tackle in numbers with fast line speed. Its a strategy they have done for many years sometimes successfully sometimes not. So comparing meters gained by forwards you are comparing apples with oranges. Its possible that taking less hitups means the outside backs get tired from their dummy half runs but I doubt it QLD were finishing the stronger but lacked the game management to put them away like they usually do. Besides, any trivial energy spent by backs making dummy half runs is more than compensated by forwards getting to walk back onside and have a breather. They also dont have to spend energy running back to the 20, they can instead walk back to the 40 (or wherever the 3rd tackle happens).

          The whole point of forwards dominating is to get more territory. To say “QLD got more territory but NSW forwards individually made more meters” is to miss the point and get things backwards. If you get more territory you tire out the opposition who have to concentrate harder and you are more likely to get a repeat set. So its actually a strategy that gasses the opposition. Also tackling in numbers is more aerobic but less anaerobic work so it can gas you less if you have the right sort of player. If you wish to assess how individuals went for QLD forwards you can’t look at meters because they are taking less hitups. Instead look at

          1. meters per hit up
          2. total tackles per minute (since they are on for different amount of times. You want a high number of tackles since you want to tackle in numbers
          3. tackling efficiency

          with the third being by far the most important. A par score on that is probably around 92% at origin level. QLD had 3 poor performing forwards in Ponga (85%) Kaufusi (89%) and Napa (87%). Napa is no surprise because he is poor at NRL level and Ponga is out of position. The game was similar to when QLD played Matt Bowen at lock for a game and they similarly couldn’t implement their game plan. So I agree with the writer that it was poor coaching that probably cost QLD the game. If you have a 92% or more tackler in Ponga’s place QLD probably dominate territory the whole match and win by plenty

          Incidentally I think Walters coaching has cost QLD a few times. In game 1 last year they had many 1v1 tackles when NSW were just working their way out of their own half. A strategy which really does gas you as well as giving up easy meters. QLD forwards got annihilated because their strucutre was wrong. That only got fixed at half time in game 2.

          In game 1 this year they tackled in numbers but often not simultaneously. Their line was pretty wonky. This meant that NSW got a huge number of harmless tacklebreaks where the first tackler would slow the runner down and the second would complete the tackle. This isn’t the end of the world (and 52 missed tackles makes it look like it is) but nimble players like todesco could take advantage of the poor structure. To QLDs credit they fixed that by game 2.

          In summary I think the op ed is right that Ponga at lock probably cost QLD even though he is an exciting player and I do indeed worry that walters is not a good enough coach getting his defensive structure wrong in 3 and a half of the last 6 games

          • July 10th 2018 @ 6:03am
            Gray Hand said | July 10th 2018 @ 6:03am | ! Report

            Scarily insughtful analysis for a 3:00am post there Graham.

            • July 10th 2018 @ 10:37am
              Graham said | July 10th 2018 @ 10:37am | ! Report

              haha I’m a very homesick expat at the moment 😀

    • Roar Rookie

      July 9th 2018 @ 9:21am
      Ray Paks said | July 9th 2018 @ 9:21am | ! Report

      I think there’ll be more football in this one compared to the first 2 encounters. This NSW team hasn’t quite ‘clicked’ yet and I wouldn’t want to be a Qlder when it does. Qld jumped out to an early lead in game 2, it won’t happen again although the early exchanges will be a real tussle as is always the case in origin matches..

    • July 9th 2018 @ 9:44am
      Hopeless knight said | July 9th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

      Hi Mary,

      Do you think if Inglis was marking Mitchell he would of not scored his tries and Mitchell would of not been able to dominate Inglis like he did to Chambers?

      • Roar Guru

        July 9th 2018 @ 10:02am
        Emcie said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        Did he dominate Chambers? Chambers and Co crossed the line through Mitchell and JAC more then their opposites have

        • July 9th 2018 @ 10:09am
          Fraser said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:09am | ! Report

          Mitchell is all over Chambers and made him look silly in both games. The niggle and nonsense from Chambers is hurting his game; he needs to focus on dominating Mitchell instead of the BS, because when he got early ball he was easily on top. Mitchell has won the big moments

          • Roar Guru

            July 9th 2018 @ 10:32am
            Emcie said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:32am | ! Report

            I didn’t say Chambers was good, but I’m not sure Mitchell was much better. If NSW lost there would have been a lot of fingers pointed in his direction, some of his defensive reads were abismal

            • July 9th 2018 @ 10:42am
              Snoop Bloggy blog said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:42am | ! Report

              Chambers first game was atrocious and he had both good and bad moments in the 2nd but he is building confidence. Mitchell’s has Chambers frazzled and it’s allowed JAC to thrive. I think Qld’s short and long kicking game wasn’t great and if Cherry can fix this it will put more pressure on the blues nullifying some of these threats. Oats will worry TT and Roberts with Gagai a great opportunist who will take advantage of Oats hard slicing runs. The Blues will have to improve a lot from games 1 and 2 if the Maroons play to potential which I believe they will.

          • July 9th 2018 @ 11:24am
            Forty Twenty said | July 9th 2018 @ 11:24am | ! Report

            Mitchell had a fair number of moments in both games where he showed he is a vastly superior talent to Chambers and other centres in the game. One on one Mitchell is way on top but Chambers was part of an attack which gave him plenty of room at times aided by some poor reads by the NSW defence.

            Do those who were happy for Dylan Walker to get punched in the head also favor Chambers being dealt with in this way as well? Justin Hodges was a bit similar but at least he backed it up.

            • Roar Guru

              July 9th 2018 @ 11:44am
              Emcie said | July 9th 2018 @ 11:44am | ! Report

              every player looks good if you only judge them on what they did well

              • July 9th 2018 @ 1:19pm
                Forty Twenty said | July 9th 2018 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

                Mitchell scores tries that very few if anyone else scores and this makes his good better than the others , his bad has become better but needs more improvement.

                Freddies gamble in picking players like Mitchell has paid off because his good points were way better than Chambers and his bad wasn’t as bad either.

              • Roar Guru

                July 9th 2018 @ 1:41pm
                Emcie said | July 9th 2018 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

                He was also helped by QLD’s inability to capitalise on the breaks they made down his edge

        • July 9th 2018 @ 12:58pm
          Short Memory said | July 9th 2018 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

          Hmmm. Not sure what game you watched. But stats for SOO Game 2 2018:

          Addo-Carr 1 Try LB 1 TB 4 TK 8 MT 4
          Mitchell 1 Try LB 2 TB 5 TK 10 MT 0
          TOTAL 2 Tr LB 3 TB 9 TK 18 MT 4

          Gagai 1 Try LB 1 TB 3 TK 6 MT 4
          Chambers 1 Try LB 1 TB 2 TK 19 MT 3
          TOTAL 2 Tr LB 2 TB 5 TK 25 MT 7

          Same number of tries for each pair. But NSW centre / wing clear winners in Line Breaks, Tackle Busts and Tackles Missed.

          As for Game 1 according to the Courier Mail stats,
          Chambers Tr 0 TB 0 LB 0
          Gagai Tr 1 TB 3 LB 0
          Mitchell Tr 1 TB13 LB 1
          Addo-Carr Tr 1 TB14 LB 2

          So the NSW pair win that contes 2-1, 27-3, 3-0

          Though to give credit where credit is due, in that Game Chambers definitley lapped the field in missed tackles with a game high 10.

          MIght be time to take off those Maroon coloured glasses…

          • Roar Guru

            July 9th 2018 @ 1:28pm
            Emcie said | July 9th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

            I did say “crossed the line”, Gagai had a try disallowed in Game 2 as well. I also never stated that Chambers dominated his opposite or got the better of them, just that saying that I don’t agree that Mitchell dominated Chambers. It reminds me of the aftermath of game 1 last year where everyone was going on about how good Hayne had been despite how easily QLD had gone through him. I don’t think NSW have been good enough this year to paper over cracks that will be there next year if they stick with this team

            • July 10th 2018 @ 3:34am
              Graham said | July 10th 2018 @ 3:34am | ! Report

              Yeah I think chambers has struggled against mitchell particularly in game 1. Unfortunately QLD have a problem at right center. Worse yet Chambers is 30 and unlikely to get better. Copley plays well at left center and is an excellent defender he might be an option (he has played at right center for broncs if i recall correctly). Gagai is a good defender but hasn’t been great in attack this year at centre (great at wing). But an oates and gagai might make a decent right side partner ship. Another option would be to put DCE at right center. There is plenty of precedent playing halves in centers for origin and he is very good defensively as well as providing a much needed goal kicking option.

              In any case right center is the one place QLDs generation next don’t have covered with a dominant player yet. Also Napa has struggled defensively 2 years in a row and there have been some major hiccups in walters coaching.

              • Roar Guru

                July 10th 2018 @ 3:46pm
                Matt H said | July 10th 2018 @ 3:46pm | ! Report

                Depending on what happens with the halves next year, Morgan may also be an option for right centre. His flick pass on that side of the field is pretty lethal and he is solid in defence.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 9th 2018 @ 10:10am
        Ray Paks said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        Inglis woulda got torched! as he is not accustomed to playing, defending on the right.
        If there is anything Chambers dominated, it was kicking the ball dead on the 3rd tackle..

    • July 9th 2018 @ 10:06am
      Fraser said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      Great article Mary. Couldn’t agree more with the change of strategy costing QLD. Very interesting about the lack of interchange. This series has been completely dominated by the outside backs. Oates will make a huge difference.
      The forwards in general, and especially the props, have been ineffective. This myth that QLD forwards have been on top is insane. They have been woeful. It’s a great example of statistics being used incorrectly. Just because QLD made more metres does not mean they won the battle in the middle. Their outside backs are doing all the work! Arrow, McGuire and Papalii were good in their limited stints, so should be able to make an impact in Game 3.

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