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Six talking points from State of Origin Game 3

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6 days ago
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And so, just like that, Queensland are the Origin champions. They have done what only a month ago was thought of as unthinkable, getting the better of New South Wales with a dominant display in Game 3 at Suncorp Stadium. Here are my talking points.

The NRL must protect players better
This isn’t about the actual concussion of James Tedesco. There is nothing you can do about copping an accidental knee to the forehead.

It’s happened to every team since the beginning of the sport and, heck, it even happened to a referee who fell over once.

No, this is about the aftermath. While Jai Arrow may well have had no idea Tedesco had been hit in the head, lost the ball or even that he was concussed, the picture of him picking Tedesco up off the ground and then slamming him back into it was frankly sickening.

Even Arrow himself looked disgusted when he realised what he had done, but that doesn’t excuse the behaviour or the trend of rugby league players to rough their opposition up when they are most vulnerable or straight after a mistake.

I say this because it has happened more than once. It just doesn’t get recognised so much when it’s not on an injured player. Whether it’s a kicker, a player who has dropped a ball or just generally when it’s not needed, it’s a trend which adds absolutely nothing to the sport.

While the NRL have taken leaps in protecting kickers in recent years, this is the next trend which needs to be rubbed out of the game, because last night’s ugly incident proved how bad it can be.

Imagine just for a moment it was a spinal concern for Tedesco. Imagine how much worse it could be.

The message will get through to players pretty quickly when penalties, sin bins or suspensions start getting wheeled out. The ball is in the NRL’s court to get serious.

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Queensland should offer Wayne Bennett whatever he wants
If Wayne Bennett wants the moon in his backyard, a fleet of Rolls Royce cars, a private plane and three private islands, Queensland should move heaven and earth to get him it.

That is how good the super coach is.

Handed the reigns to the Queensland set-up just weeks out from the start of the series after Kevin Walters signed on the dotted line with the Broncos, Bennett engineered a game plan that got the better of New South Wales and kept his team in the fight the whole way.

There is a reason he is noted as the best man manager, and it was on display right throughout the series.

To drag his team back from what was a disastrous Game 2 to be able to dominate Game 3 and then hang on when the going got tough, despite this being touted as the worst Queensland team ever (hint: probably not true), is a special sort of effort.

There might be claims he is past it, but the fact is he isn’t. He still has what it takes in this sort of environment, and whether he is a club coach or not, Bennett is what Queensland need as they look to bring through more young talent, plenty of which was on display last night.

Players like Harry Grant, Tino Faasuamaleaui, Lindsay Collins and AJ Brimson learning off Bennett is exactly what the doctor ordered, and you can see it worked wonders for them in the 2020 series.

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They need a cool head in charge and someone to mentor whoever the next coach will be. Cameron Smith, anyone? Wayne Bennett is the man to do it.

Wayne Bennett

Wayne Bennett (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Nathan Cleary isn’t a big game player
This could garner some controversy, but the facts are becoming bleedingly obvious to see.

Sure, a half might as well stay in the sheds if his forward pack can’t compete, but Cleary wasn’t good enough in Game 1, Game 3 or the recent NRL grand final.

His team lost on all three of those occasions, and it leaves Cleary, who was clearly the best player during the regular season without anything to celebrate come the end of the season.

At 22, age and inexperience can no longer be used as an excuse for Cleary on the big stage. The Penrith half has simply failed to stand up and lead his team when the chips are down.

Unfortunately it’s just the way – some players will be excellent at club level but never take that next step. And yes, Cleary was part of a winning Origin team last year – that needs some acknowledgement – but in the games New South Wales won he wasn’t the star of the show and was simply doing his job behind a good forward pack.

When it comes to judging how good a player is you have to judge them based on when their team is struggling. Comparisons can’t be drawn to the greats, because Cleary has failed on that quest at every time of asking.

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He looked like a world-beater in Game 2, but so did Cody Walker and Damien Cook because of the way the rest of the team was playing.

Cleary was unable to dig his team out of a rut last night and the trend is now well established.

Nathan Cleary kicks for the Blues during State of Origin

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Is Cameron Munster the game’s best half?
There has never been less of a debate about who was going to win the Wally Lewis Medal.

Even considering Cameron Munster missed almost all of Game 3 after being taken out with a concussion, the man who came into the series with more question marks than the USA’s coronavirus response owing to inconsistent regular season form and injuries exits the series as the best player on the park in the toughest arena of them all.

The bottom line is this: Without Munster, Queensland would not have come close to winning the 2020 State of Origin series.

He was simply unreal last night. While his Game 1 performance was good, he went to another level in Brisbane. He was involved in absolutely everything, and the try he set up for Edrick Lee at the back end of the first half was simply stunning.

While that moment might be the one to live on highlights reels moving forward, he simply didn’t put a foot wrong, taking the attack to the Blues at every opportunity. He ran the ball more times than any other Queenslander but it was incredibly rare a play would die with him, while his support for Daly Cherry-Evans in the kicking game was also second to none.

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He might not get the raps he deserves, but the man who bleeds Maroon had a stunning game and had a stunning series and, as he has done for Melbourne time and time again in club land, stood up in a big game when it counted.

Cameron Munster of the Maroons passes

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Welcome to Origin, Harry Grant
As a Blues fan, when Harry Grant was overlooked for the Origin series opener I couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief.

While there is a part of the thought process that will suggest he is too young, not experienced enough or too flamboyant, none of that was an issue last night.

He took to Origin like he was Cameron Smith, not like he is the next Cameron Smith.

What makes Grant so special and the likely Queensland hooker for the next decade is his ability to just keep going. Playing almost three-quarters of the game, Grant defended strongly and did all the little things right, allowing him to show off the more attractive areas of his game.

His running out of dummy half, quick dummy half service and combination with Munster was something to behold. He has more than proven himself at club level, and going back to have a full-time combination with Munster next year presumably should have every opposition club more than a little worried.

The fact Grant had line breaks, line break assists, barely a mistake in defence and plenty of runs out of dummy half showed just how well-rounded his game is.

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So good is Grant that Reed Mahoney probably watched his Origin dream go up in smoke last night, as Jake Friend has done for most of the last decade.

New South Wales should be very, very scared about what the most talked-about kid in the game will do to them.

Maroons celebrate a try by Harry Grant during game three of the State of Origin series

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Blues relied too heavily on flat-track bullies and it cost them
As the old saying goes, a team of stars will always get beaten by a star team.

If that doesn’t sum up the 2020 State of Origin series, nothing ever will.

The Maroons came into the series as the rank outsiders, the widely panned worst team in Origin history, and they turned out to be anything but.

We have already been over what made them so good, but the Blues got their squad selection wrong and as a result the mentality and game plan were miles off the mark.

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The problem with players like Damien Cook and Cody Walker is that, while they are great when their forwards are dominant (as the Blues were in Game 2), they aren’t so when the forwards are behind the eight ball.

That is even more of a problem when the forwards themselves simply can’t get the job done. Players like Junior Paulo and Daniel Saifiti – heck, even Payne Haas – just couldn’t get into the game last night. The same goes with Tyson Frizell who was awfully quiet.

Add that to the fact a pair of players were picked in the centres because they are stars, not because they could get a job done, and the picture finishes painting itself.

The one trait all the players mentioned have in common is that they can make big plays and have big moments but often don’t perform with any consistency.

The Queensland team didn’t have any of them, and that, in a nutshell, is the difference.

The non-selection of David Klemmer was baffling on the day it was announced and still makes no sense. The difference he would have made would have been enormous, and while that is just one example, the bottom line is that the Blues were full of flat-track bullies.

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That isn’t how you win an Origin series.

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Well, that just about does it for 2020. What a crazy, chaotic season it has been. At one stage we didn’t know if we’d have a season at all, let alone an Origin series.

It’s been a wild ride, but to regular readers of this column, thanks for the support, the comments and the continued following. It means more than you could ever imagine, and even if I don’t reply to comments, rest assured they are read and appreciated.

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See you in 2021!