This article follows on from my recent article ‘The Australian coaches dream team‘ and this time I have selected a team made up of some of the great players who have coached either New South Wales or Queensland since State of Origin began in 1980.
The State of Origin series, and with it the long, disrupted 2020 season, is now over, and we can put our feet up and get ready for the rugby league silly season, which appears to be well underway.
Once again Origin has delivered on its promise of upsets, close results, controversy, debutants, failures and players stepping up to the challenge.
Here’s a quick A to Z guide of what just happened.
A. Adelaide ambush
The NSW and Queensland teams flew into Adelaide for Game 1 on 11 November with everyone, with the exception of the Queensland team, their 70-year-old coach, and a few diehard fans, expecting New South Wales to stroll to victory. Unfortunately, the Blues learnt once again that games aren’t played on paper, and the Queenslanders overturned a 10-0 halftime deficit to run out winners in the 79th minute (and 50 seconds).
B. Boyd Cordner
In a sad end to his season, Cordner suffered yet another head knock in Game 1, and despite controversially returning to the field after a head impact assessment, ruled himself out for the rest of the series. I wonder if we’ll see him in Origin next year.
C. NSW Cockroaches
NSW came into the series as strong favourites and really should have taken the lead in Game 1 to avoid the inevitable unhappy Suncorp decider. It was a disappointing result for Blues players and fans alike, and some reputations have been badly damaged. Coach Brad Fittler will be wondering for a long time why he didn’t pick Ryan Papenhuyzen on the bench in Game 3. The Blues fans certainly are.
Dale Cherry-Evans had a lot on his plate in Game 1 as Queensland’s captain, playmaker and goal kicker. It didn’t seem to worry him though, and despite missing a penalty from under the posts, he went on to kick the next three goals in a game where goal kicking was the difference. He finished the as man of the match. He had less impact in Game 2 but really led by example in Game 3, throwing everything into it to get his rookie team home.
E. The extras
It’s been a long season for most players, but spare a thought for those picked in the 27-man Origin squads who never made it onto the field in the three-game series, except maybe as a ball boy. For New South Wales, Nick Cotric, Stephen Crichton, Zac Lomax, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Jarome Lui and Cameron McInnes didn’t get a run, while Queensland’s Hymel Hunt, Josh Kerr and Patrick Carrigan didn’t get to pull on the maroon jersey. I wonder if they’ll be back next year.
F. The fall guy
Despite being far from NSW’s worst performer in Game 1, which after all was a very close match, Origin debutant Luke Keary was made the fall guy for the team’s performance and was dropped for Game 2. At the time, coach Brad Fittler gave his reason for replacing Keary with Cody Walker as “just a feeling”, “just a feeling”.
G. Dane Gagai
Dane Gagai has proved once again that he’s an Origin specialist and that he saves his best performances for the maroon jumper. He played all over Jack Wighton in Game 1 and must have been close to winning the man of the match. Another great try assist and a try-saving tackle in Game 2 and he was again one of their best in a badly beaten side. Shifting to left centre in Game 3, he was hard to handle all match and one of the best on ground. Souths fans will be hoping he can bring some of his Origin form to the Bunnies next season.
H. Homebush hammering
If Game 1 was an ambush by Queensland, Game 2 was a massacre by New South Wales. Losing Munster early, the Maroons had no answer to the relentless forward domination by the Blues pack, which allowed the spine to play at their best – 34-10 is a big winning margin in Origin. New South Wales were firming as favourites!
I. Interstate rivalry
Origin is founded on interstate rivalry, and it was pleasing to see that nothing had changed, even at a time when ‘we’re all in this together’. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk went the extra rivalry mile by closing Queensland’s borders to New South Wales, and the antipathy between her and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian made the prospect of a fight between the two of them as part of the Game 3 halftime entertainment a real possibility.
I’m not sure I’m a fan of the top knot hairstyle, but I’m certainly a fan of Josh Addo-Carr, who really lit the series up scoring a double in both Games 1 and 2 and also brought some special touches in general play. Only a professional foul in Game 3 saw him miss out on scoring a fifth try for the series.
K. Kurt Capewell
Thrust into the unfamiliar centre position just prior to Game 1 kickoff, Capewell was one of Queensland’s best and probably the difference between the two sides. His lack of experience at centre was shown up to some extent in Game 2, however, and New South Wales successfully attacked Queensland’s left edge time and time again. Wisely, Bennett moved him back to the second row for Game 3, where he had another strong match.
L. Last man standing
It was always going to be a problem playing the Origin series at the end of the season, and it’s been challenging to get anywhere near the best teams on the park. Latrell Mitchell, Kotoni Staggs, Tom Trbojevic, Kalyn Ponga, Michael Morgan, David Fifita and Kyle Feldt were all ruled out with injury before the series kicked off, AJ Brimson, Cameron Murray and Boyd Cordner were ruled out after Game 1, Xavier Coates joined the wounded after Game 2, Christian Welch was stood down for Game 2 and Cameron Munster played injured in Game 3. Add to that a handful of game-ending concussions and it’s a wonder that there was anyone left to take the field.
M. Cameron Munster
Munster was one of Queensland’s best in Game 1 and was strong and elusive throughout the game. The Maroons’ chances took a big hit early in Game 2 when he left the field with concussion and Ben Hunt’s best efforts were not enough to make up for Munster’s loss. Some believe that he should have been stood down in Game 3 in order to fully recover from his head knock, but his performance in the final game of the series was truly magnificent and the Blues had no answer to his probing attack and excellent kicking game.
N. Nathan Cleary
Cleary attracts more scrutiny than any New South Wales player since Mitchell Pearce was handed the Blues halfback jersey at the age of 19. Cleary’s effort in Game 1 was widely criticised, when his poor goal kicking helped Queensland win the match. However, he fought back strongly in Game 2 with a man-of-the-match performance to silence his critics. Unfortunately, despite trying hard, he couldn’t get his team over the line in the series decider, and no doubt the experts will try to pin the blame on him again.
O. The old coach
Wayne Bennett was dragged into the Queensland coaching role when Kevin Walters bailed at the last minute, presumably after reading through the Queensland team sheet, and the old coach proved that he’s still got it by getting the best out of what has been described by league experts and Paul Gallen alike as “the worst Queensland side ever”. How he conjured a series win with this squad remains a mystery.
P. Payne Haas
Revived memories of the good old days when he and Queensland’s big Tino brought back the biff in Game 2. Haas looked like he was happy to go on with it on his way to an enforced breather in the bin, and we can look forward to these two giants locking horns for many years to come.
Q. Queensland cane toads
Queensland had a record number of players make their Origin debuts and most of them would struggle to be recognised on the street. The worst Queensland side ever! They proved once again the value of the Maroons jumper and the fact that they’re happy with the underdog tag. Truly a remarkable performance.
The ARL sent the NRL a harsh note about the handling of the Boyd Cordner head impact assessment in Game 1. While they’re at it, they could also consider whether Cameron Munster was fit for Game 3 and what it takes for Jake Friend to ever leave the field for a HIA. Let’s hope that there are no negative health repercussions for these players in the future.
S. Suncorp sabotage
A series decider at Suncorp? What could go wrong for New South Wales? The Blues were never really in the game and couldn’t get enough possession or field position to apply any consistent pressure to Queensland. Their night was effectively over when James Tedesco left the field with a concussion at the 19-minute mark, never to return. Cameron Munster and co ran riot, and a capacity crowd got value for money and a bit of joy after what’s been a difficult year.
Not this time! Let’s see if Queensland can win the next couple of series.
You can’t write an article this year without using this word, so there it is. Move on.
V. Valentine Holmes
He made it back into the Queensland team in Game 2 and proved once and for all that he’s not a fullback. He was shifted to the wing for Game 3, he scored the critical first try and his goal kicking was faultless. If his handling was just a little better, he may have finished with three tries for the game.
W. Walker’s on! Walker’s on!
And when he’s on, he’s on. Cody Walker returned to Origin for Game 2 and immediately justified his selection, having a great second half and freeing Nathan Cleary up to have one of his best games yet for New South Wales. His Game 3 experience wasn’t as memorable though, and he failed to set NSW left side attack alight, leaving the field in a medicab late in the game. Yet another victim of serious concussion in this series.
X. Xavier Coates
At just 19 years of age and with only 15 first-grade games to his name, Coates was one of the many surprise selections in the Queensland squad, but he may be here for a long time to come based on the form shown this series. He combined well with Dane Gagai on the right side and scored tries in each of the first two games, unfortunately missing Game 3 with injury.
Y. Yesterday’s heroes
Selectors from both sides showed that they weren’t married to the past and fearlessly left out players who probably thought that they would front up for another Origin series this year. Paul Vaughan, David Klemmer and Wade Graham for New South Wales and Queensland’s Josh McGuire, Corey Oates and Jarrod Wallace may have played their last Origin game.
The Channel Nine coverage. There’s not much to like about it, with the possible exception of the minimal contributions by Peter Sterling. You knew it was always going to be downhill once they involved noted league expert Karl Stefanovic. The good news is that Nine have the exclusive rights to Origin for another two years…