The State of Origin series will head to a live decider next week after the New South Wales Blues put in a dominant performance last night to beat the Queensland Maroons by 24 points. Here are my talking points from Game 2.
Nathan Cleary goes from zero to hero
A week is a bloody long time in sport! It’s even longer in the State of Origin bubble.
Just ask Nathan Cleary.
This time last week, he had half the media calling for his head, fans wondering why he couldn’t replicate his regular season form and others asking if he was going to be the next Mitchell Pearce, simply unable to translate club form to big games.
And it wasn’t without cause. His performance in Adelaide wasn’t good enough, although he could hardly cop all the blame when the forwards were simply rolled.
Last night, that wasn’t the case, and Cleary stood up like he did for Penrith all year.
The combination of having Cody Walker alongside him certainly helped as a better runner of the ball enabled him to slot in and do his job, but from the kicking game to the running game and everything in between, Cleary was unreal in a man-of-the-match performance.
Of particular note were the tactics of kicking early, which caught the Queenslanders out at the back more than once. But for that to work, you have to be able to land the ball on a five-cent piece, which Cleary did.
As the game wore on, Queensland had no choice but to put more pressure on Cleary given the way he was orchestrating the kicking game, and that only served to open up gaps and opportunities for Cleary, whose running game is often underrated given he plays next to Jarome Luai at Penrith.
But for Cleary to come away with 115 metres and a trio of tackle busts, plus all the other things stats won’t tell you, is a brilliant performance and shows that, even with last week under the belt, his confidence wasn’t rattled.
Going back to Brisbane will be a different challenge for the decider of course, but if he is in the ballpark of last night’s ten out of ten performance, then the Blues will be in a very, very strong position.
Queensland need a fit Cameron Munster to win the series
When Queensland lost one of their stars just two minutes into last night’s game, it was always going to make the battle of upsetting the Blues again a whole lot harder.
Cameron Munster played a huge role in Game 1 and was set to again until he was tackled in the air, causing his head to thud into the ground with such force that he was simply never going to pass an HIA test.
And it hurt Queensland, not just in attack where they looked a side without structure and at times without direction, but also in defence.
Their left side turned into a leaking ship without Munster. His replacement Ben Hunt tried hard, but clearly didn’t have the success of Game 1 as New South Wales focused their attack on him and that side of the park, running in the first tries with simple running efforts through Cody Walker and James Tedesco.
Those tries sparked the Blues to life after a competitive start, and from there, it was men against boys as the Blues galloped away with a win which was eerily similar to the 2019 version, albeit that one coming in Perth.
While Munster might bring a fair bit to the men in Maroon defensively, attack was also an issue.
It seemed to destabilise the entire team, although this has to be prefaced by saying it’s incredibly difficult to judge the contribution of halves the forwards are getting rolled.
Regardless, Daly Cherry-Evans couldn’t take the extra responsibility while cast away from the successful running role he played in Game 1 and Ben Hunt looked more like a deer trapped in the headlights.
In short, there is no replacing Munster. If Queensland are to stand a chance, he must be fit.
Payne Haas will never play from the bench again
After Game 1, I wrote the Blues needed to bring Haas into the starting side. They were lucky not to be behind after quarter of an hour at the Adelaide Oval.
That much was more than evident.
I did think that maybe it’d be Daniel Saifiti returning to the bench, but that theory was blown out of the water at Homebush last night, because Brad Fittler got the rotation of his big props spot on.
Apart from the moment of madness where Haas wound up in the sin bin and one early penalty from Saifiti, the duo got the Blues off to a great start, kept them competitive during the early Josh Papalii-led onslaught and then took over the game.
Haas has one of the biggest motors in the competition and it showed last night as he played 50 minutes, a substantial increase on Game 1, but also ran for over 150 metres and led from the front for most of the contest.
It was the sort of performance which he has churned out again and again for a struggling Broncos during the year, only this time he had an excellent spine and functioning team behind him.
And boy does it make a difference.
He wasn’t the best on ground, but Haas certainly vindicated the decision to place him in the starting 13.
Queensland need a spark – could Harry Grant play the decider?
This would be a mammoth call. A real “throwing the wolf to the lions” moment for Queensland and Wayne Bennett.
But they need a spark from somewhere. With the exception of the second half in Game 1 where they dominated and enjoyed all the possession, Queensland have had very little in the way of attacking spark throughout the first two games of the series.
From the opening quarter of an hour in Adelaide where they set up camp on the Blues’ line but couldn’t score, to much of last night’s confused offering, there is a real concern about the Maroons’ attack.
Harry Grant, who is in their 27-man squad, could be the answer. His ball running, his creativity and explosiveness is something the Maroons just don’t have right now through Jake Friend and Ben Hunt.
In no way am I suggesting this is the right answer, because again, it’d be a huge decision, but it could well help solve an issue or two through the middle of the game to have Grant injecting some energy off the bench.
James Tedesco is still the game’s best fullback
There have been times throughout 2020 when this has been questioned. Tedesco battled a little bit of inconsistency at times this year, but frankly, that was only in comparison to his 2019 season where he won the Dally M with two rounds to spare and locked up just about every other award there is to win in the sport.
But last night, as if knowing it was time to silence the doubters, Tedesco was among the best on ground. The Roosters custodian ran for well over 200 metres, scored a try, assisted a couple of others, made line breaks and was safe as a house in defence.
He might have been part of a back three which put in one of the better Origin performances you’re ever likely to see thanks to the hard work of Daniel Tupou and excellent scoring and kick-chasing ability of Josh Addo-Carr, but Tedesco and his combination with Nathan Cleary was the star of the show.
The man they know as Teddy scored the winning try in last year’s series and is still yet to put in a bad performance for the Blues, so it would be hardly a surprise if he is a difference-maker next Wednesday.
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui is Queensland’s future
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Get used to spelling his name. It’s going to be on the back of a Queensland shirt for at least the next decade.
The debutant, who was included in the Queensland Origin squad and maybe expected to fight for a spot on the bench, was thrust into lock by Wayne Bennett ahead of Game 1 and hasn’t let the veteran coach down yet.
While he was solid last time out, he was better than that last night, and while it was he and the firey Haas who might have went to the bin for ten minutes, Tino didn’t put a foot wrong otherwise.
He ran the ball with vigour, constantly looked for work and hit hard in defence through the middle third as he attempted to keep his team in the contest. While playing in big games in a winning team is one thing, true talent can be judged in a losing team and Tino was there, giving his all every minute he was on the park last night.
Just quietly, he may not look out of place in green and gold at next year’s World Cup if the rapid development continues.
Roarers, what did you make of Game 2? Drop a comment and let us know.