Brad Fittler had to find some solutions to bounce back from the Blues’ loss in Game 1 and his decisions paid dividends.
The major change was inserting Cody Walker to start at five-eighth in favour of Luke Keary. More importantly, after there were question marks as to whether the backline would remain intact, Fittler doubled down and kept James Tedesco, Daniel Tupou, Clint Gutherson, Jack Wighton and Josh Addo-Carr from Game 1.
As I mentioned in my Game 2 preview, the game was going to go one of two ways. If the Blues were to be victorious, they would do so in comfortable fashion and if the Maroons were to win, it would have likely come in more of a thrilling scenario.
It’s interesting to note that both coaches had similar comments during the post-game press conference. Fittler mentioned the improved intent of the Blues while Wayne Bennett mentioned the Maroons’ poor attitude which were the difference makers for Game 2.
The Blues ended up piling on points against the Maroons and they have their dynamic backline to give credit to. New South Wales should also be pleased that they were rewarded for keeping faith with Nathan Cleary.
The Penrith halfback was named man of the match after he finished with 15 runs for 115 metres, three tackle breaks, one line break, one line break assist, one offload and 24 tackles.
After the Maroons drew first blood early, Cleary was able to lead the team and get his side back into it. Unfortunately for Queensland, Cameron Munster suffered a heavy knock in the opening minutes which would have thrown the Maroons in disarray despite scoring first. Nonetheless, Cleary stamped his authority and dominated the game.
The halves for New South Wales linked up multiple times to cause havoc to the defence. Cody Walker and Cleary played pivotal roles in every try scored. It was a stark contrast from Game 1 as the kicking game was simply amazing. They found open space when kicking for distance which created pressure, they were able to force three dropouts with Cleary also getting a 40/20 on the night.
One noticeable area that the Blues continued to exploit was attacking the edge of Kurt Capewell and Phillip Sami. New South Wales managed to score four out of their six tries down Queensland’s left edge while Dane Gagai did his best defend his side with Xavier Coates.
While the playmakers and backline of NSW rightfully deserve a lot of praise, it’s significant not to overlook the NSW bench.
New additions in Dale Finucane and Isaah Yeo who are known as workhorses, provided a strong spark. In 23 minutes, Finucane ran for 123 metres with two tackle breaks while Yeo ran for 127 metres with two tackle breaks and also making 15 tackles in 31 minutes.
The Parramatta duo of Junior Paulo and Nathan Brown also made positive impacts on the field.
Game 2 epitomises what most viewers thought should have happened back in Game 1. It was clear that once New South Wales got on a roll, they were going to be too difficult to stop.
While a victory makes it easier to decide, New South Wales may have found their best starting 17. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what changes will be made for Queensland especially in their backline.
Will Brenko Lee or Corey Allan potentially join the starting 17 or will they persevere with their current backline as the centre and wing combinations become more familiar with each other?
Queensland will be sweating on the health of Cameron Munster as he has always been a big game player who can create plays out of nothing.
With the all-important Game 3 being played at Brisbane, its obvious that it won’t be the same story as games played in Sydney. The thing to watch out for in the decider is can Suncorp Stadium give the Maroons a lift to shock the nation and win this series.