The New South Wales Blues may have gone into State of Origin Game 1 as favourites, but when the siren went, the scoreline was 18-14 in favour of the Queensland Maroons.
The day after, rugby league Twitter went into meltdown. It’s true that the takes about footy are never hotter than the day after an Origin match.
Fans went to panic stations, pondering what would need to happen for the Blues to beat Queensland in Game 2.
There were certainly some worrying signs for the Blues in Game 1, particularly their inability to capitalise on attacking opportunities within their 20 metre zone for the whole game, the ability of the Queensland forwards to dominate the forward battle in the second half and the fact that the Blues only went into the sheds up by eight at half time because of the three tries that Queensland bombed during the first half.
So what needs to change?
Funnily enough for me; not much.
The first thing that Brad Fittler needs to change is the way he used his interchange bench.
David Klemmer was NSW’s most effective forward. He played for 50 minutes of the game and did not return.
Tyson Frizell was another player who was promising for NSW early but he also played far less minutes than he should have. He went off after 29 minutes.
Jake Trbojevic also went off too.
Jack Wighton was used as a bench number six to replace Cody Walker, but then Walker came off and Wighton was moved to the middle.
Cameron Murray and Payne Haas were both good, but it was while these two players were on that the game started to get away from the Blues. Freddie watched that happen and then made a decision to hook Cody Walker?
There are rotations in rugby league for a reason and it’s unclear to me why coaches in Origin cannot stick to tried and tested methods; rotating players every 20 minutes.
If the Blues have more effective interchanges in Game II I think it will make a massive difference.
We also need to understand the limitations of some of the players on the field.
Let’s begin with Nathan Cleary.
I was mildly critical of Cleary after Game 1 and in response, people told me that Cleary tried hard and tackled well.
With due respect, I do not select a State of Origin halfback because of their ability to tackle or because they try hard.
Cleary has played four Origins. He does not have a try assist, try, line break or line break assist to his name. He has had one offload.
In Game I, between the 49th and the 60th minute, Cleary did not touch the ball. In the next 13 minutes he touched it four times and that was when the team was on the backfoot.
In that same period we saw two yardage kicks by Damien Cook, Wighton get charged down and even Boyd Cordner put in a kick, sans boot.
Walker may be getting hammered for his involvement, but he touched the ball 33 times in 65 minutes. Cleary touched the ball 50 times in 80 minutes. There isn’t much difference there.
But thank goodness he ranks highly on the intensity tracker.
Cleary reminds me of Mitchell Pearce; another player who excuses are made for. The factor in his benefit is that he is young.
Cleary is a good player, but is he that much better than, say, Chad Townsend, whose name is never mentioned for Origin.
There’s no need necessarily to drop Cleary for Game 2, but if that decision is made I would select James Maloney as his replacement. Otherwise, I think Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker and Damien Cook who all play together at a club level.
Another player with similar limitations is Latrell Mitchell. Many have coined him the ‘greatest player in the game’ at the moment. But I disagree.
We see Mitchell at his best when the Sydney Roosters are dominating (and given how successful the Roosters have been over the last couple of years, we’ve certainly seen some exceptional footy from Latrell). I remember the three tries he scored against the Wests Tigers earlier this year, when the Roosters were on a roll.
But when his team is in trouble, he is not a player that is willing to do the hard work to get his team out of his trouble.
This is what separates Mitchell from the great players – the ‘greatest’ don’t have games like that.
To date, Mitchell has had four Origin games. For two of those games, he was close to the best on the field. His last two games he has been close to the worst on ground.
Some will argue he didn’t get early ball. But that isn’t the case. There were several times in the first half when he got good, early ball.
Walker passed him the ball and he kicked it away and on another occasion he was tackled by Chamber. The opportunities were there.
Unfortunately though, I question Mitchell’s defence in games like this. In tough games like this it’s almost like Mitchell has no interest in playing defensive football.
We saw him jam up several times which meant that Queensland were able to find space out wide.
I question whether he should be selected for Game 2, particularly considering that this next game is must win.
The Blues have the makings of an excellent side and are certainly capable of beating the Maroons in game 2. But they will have no chance if their best players are not on the field when they are needed and if their halves do not take control of the game and use their attacking opportunities more effectively.