Wow, what a series win by the mighty Maroons.
On paper, that team wouldn’t bother most teams, let alone a star-studded NSW side. But with determination, belief and a little motivation from former Blues skipper Paul Gallen, the Queenslanders pulled off one of the best victories in State of Origin history on Wednesday, downing the NSW Blues 20-14.
Here are my ten talking points from the decider.
1. Is this Queensland’s greatest series win?
Geez, it is hard not to agree. This series feels like the 1995 wonders of Fatty Vautin: unheralded players who just achieved the impossible. That’s what this match felt like. On paper, this Queensland side should have lost 3-0. This team just had belief and grit and a lot of determination, and just had a huge chip on their shoulder to prove the doubters wrong. Well, they definitely did that.
2. Freddy’s rookie mistake
The talent of this NSW crop reminds me a lot of the dominant Queensland era of 2006-2017. They have so much talent, they don’t know who to select and where to select them. Here is where their biggest issue was.
Wayne Bennett on the other side of the spectrum did not make the same mistake he made in Game 2, and made sure he played all his players in their right positions. Valentine Holmes went to the wing, Corey Allan was in at fullback, Kurt Capewell was back in the second row, Edrick Lee is a specialist winger on the wing, and everyone played where they are used to.
Brad Fittler, who became in love with his Game 2 performance, did not budge, and still kept with players out of position and out of form. Clint Gutherson provided absolutely nothing at centre, and more so at fullback when moved there.
Jack Wighton, the Dally M medallist, was silent all series. The unfortunate event of James Tedesco going down forced Isaah Yeo to play in the centres, but why not put him in his given position of second row, and play a guy who began in the centres – Angus Crichton – in the open centre position? Out-of-position players won’t last in a three-game series.
3. Four forwards on the bench but no utility?
Yes, again, this was another mistake from Fittler. Falling in love with his side’s Game 2 performance, why would you not bring in a utility player, who was the most in-form of all the players not in the run-on side and the Clive Churchill medallist?
Ryan Papenhuyzen was fit and ready to roll. A lot of people said, “Well, who do we drop?”. It is fairly simple to me. Yeo, Dale Finucane and Joseph Paulo all got decent minutes and Fittler wasted the impact of Nathan Brown, so why not carry a utility if you don’t plan on using all four forwards for their given task?
Brown or Yeo could have made way for Papenhuyzen with ease, and the Tedesco injury wouldn’t have mattered. What could have been?
4. Four Queensland debutants
All four of the Queensland debutants handled the arena fairly well. Corey Allan had a few mistakes in him, but also provided his strong suit, which is the back-sweeping play. He provided the last pass for a great Holmes try, and what could’ve been another Holmes try.
Edrick Lee was faultless. His cousin inside him, Brenko Lee, was strong in attack but made a few bad defensive reads. One led to the Daniel Tupou try.
Harry Grant, well, what more can be said? This kid is special. He was one of the three players on the park. He was absolutely magnificent. He created havoc for the NSW defence and even worked well with another hooker (Jake Friend) on the park, and raised his game as well.
5. Out goes Cam Smith, in comes Harry Grant
Just when people thought the Melbourne Storm’s dominance would end with Cameron Smith leaving, the unearthing of Harry Grant continues. He has a calm nature about him, which is very similar to Smith. He plays very simply and does the small things very, very well.
His work rate is first-class. His running from dummy half is very precise, but strong as well. He is the whole package.
You add him with man of the series Cam Munster plus Jahrome Hughes and Clive Churchill medallist Ryan Papenhuyzen for another five-plus years in Melbourne, and the Storm (and Queensland) look to be here for the long run.
6. Nathan Cleary cannot handle pressure
If you’re going to comment “What about Game 2”, that was not pressure. Everything went his way. It was a home game at ANZ Stadium, there was no Munster, it was a hungry NSW side, and there was nothing that didn’t assist him in playing the game of his life.
Barring his 40-20, he did not do much. In the space of over a month, he disappeared in a grand final loss, played a terrible Game 1 and could not back up his Game 2 performance in Game 3.
When Tedesco went down, along with Cody Walker, he should’ve owned the game. But he tried his dummy-and-run option one too many times. Cleary could be in danger for his position next year if Luke Keary is to permanently move to halfback for the Roosters.
7. Penalty try or no penalty try?
This one left me bemused. I did not know how to make a call as a fan on the couch. Josh Ado-Carr was clearly in front of Cam Munster when he began his run after the kick, and then gets hit by Corey Allan, which costs him about two or three metres, which then allows other Queensland players to cover the gap and stop Addo-Carr from scoring. Here are a few things to think about.
Would he have scored? On pace, he scores ten times out of ten, without failure. He would’ve copped a slight hit even if it were a legal one, which may have slowed him, but possibly not enough to stop him from scoring.
The three Queensland players who were in frame when the play finished, would they have stopped Addo-Carr from scoring? It is hard to tell from the angles we were given.
It is a murky call to make, and I am not sure how the call should’ve gone, but it was a game changer. Allan being sent to the bin was correct at a minimum.
8. Wayne Bennett is the super coach
As cheeky as his smug smile is when he cracks a joke, Bennett deserved to smile and do whatever he wanted after Game 3. His performance to get this squad up to win this series was nothing short of amazing.
The QRL need to throw the house at him and keep him permanently for a long, long time. He and Mal Meninga did wonders for this young side and I can see those two men especially leading this side for a few more series wins in the near future.
9. Where to for NSW?
In a series they should have won, based on the players available and what the pundits said, where to for the NSW Blues? Do they keep Fittler?
I would not. There are so many options and Fittler is not the man they need for that type of talent.
Does Boyd Cordner remain captain? Going off form, Cordner did not deserve to start this year’s Origin series. He does turn into a different animal come Origin, but there is only so much bad form you can take into Origin.
If he does not play, who captains the Blues? Jake Trbojevic comes to mind. He is what you need in a captain, he leads by example, he is level headed and passionate.
Damien Cook does not come to mind, because he will be under pressure by Api Koroisau next season, which could up-end his Origin career.
Do they go back to specialist centres? Yes, yes and yes. Latrell Mitchell, Zac Lomax, Kotoni Staggs and Stephen Crichton should all come into consideration. No more carrying fullbacks or halves into the centres. It just won’t work.
There is a lot to ponder for the Blues before the 2021 series.
10. Cameron Munster is a freak
This man played two full games of Origin this series and funnily enough, they won those two games. In Game 1 he was passive, did his job and didn’t try to overplay his hand.
Game 3? He turned it up to a whole new level. He wanted the ball at every moment. He wanted to put on big hits to rile up his side. He wanted to be that guy to win the Queenslanders the series. Winners want the ball in their hand – and that is what Cameron Munster did.
There is no doubt anymore that he is the best half in rugby league. He outplayed Cleary, Walker and Keary, all in one series. He was a deserved winner of the Wally Lewis medal, and showcased just how good he is.
What a series! I look forward to the mid-season fixture returning in 2021, but I am just grateful they made sure that Origin kicked on in such a weird year. Bring on 2021.