Brad Fittler needs to be careful what he wishes for when it comes to play-the-ball speed.
The NSW coach was screaming Blue murder after Origin I due to the speed of the ruck and wants a quicker game this Sunday in Perth but his team actually goes better when the play-the-ball pace is slow.
On average, Queenslanders played the ball at 3.22 seconds while NSW were a touch slower at 3.4, which Fittler believes is evidence of the Maroons defenders being given too much leniency by referee Ashley Klein in the series opener.
Despite the protests of NSW, the same whistleblower will control proceedings in Perth for game two.
Since Fittler took over at the start of 2018, the Blues now have a 7-6 record after the 16-10 loss in Origin I.
In games when the Blues’ average play-the-ball speed has been 3.4 like game one or quicker, they have a 1-3 record.
When their play-the-ball speed has been slower than that benchmark, they are 6-3.
When you isolate the six matches in which both teams were above 3.4 seconds per play-the-ball, NSW dominated with a 4-2 success rate.
In the four games which have had a quick ruck with both teams under 3.4, the Maroons were victorious three times.
So if Fittler gets his way and Klein ensures it’s a quicker game at Optus Stadium, the Blues’ chances of victory will actually decrease. Queensland want to play touch footy, the Blues should be after a drag-em-out grinding contest.
Last year when the Blues smashed the Maroons 50-6 to start the series before sealing the trophy in game two, their play-the-ball speed was a pedestrian 3.69 and 3.98 respectively while Queensland were much quicker at 3.33 and 3.34.
Queensland have had quicker average play-the-ball speeds in eight of the 13 matches during Fittler’s tenure, but only won four of those occasions.
|Game||Qld PTB||NSW PTB||Result|
|2022 Origin I||3.22||3.4||Qld 16-10|
|2021 Origin III||3.68||3.72||Qld 20-18|
|2021 Origin II||3.34||3.72||NSW 26-0|
|2021 Origin I||3.33||3.69||NSW 50-6|
|2020 Origin III||3.09||3.4||Qld 20-14|
|2020 Origin II||3.39||3.23||NSW 34-10|
|2020 Origin I||3.28||3.15||Qld 18-14|
|2019 Origin III||3.49||3.89||NSW 26-20|
|2019 Origin II||3.75||3.8||NSW 38-6|
|2019 Origin I||3.39||3.55||Qld 18-14|
|2018 Origin III||3.82||3.56||Qld 18-12|
|2018 Origin II||3.73||3.56||NSW 18-14|
|2018 Origin I||3.51||3.42||NSW 22-12|
“Playing off slow rucks is a pretty hard thing to do,” Fittler said in the post-match media conference at Accor Stadium.
He has since met with NRL referees’ boss Jared Maxwell to air his concerns and to his credit, despite not getting the assurances he was after, Fittler has repeatedly said it’s now up to the Blues to adapt to the ruck speed better for their must-win encounter.
It should also be noted that Maroons coach Billy Slater spent 16 seasons at Melbourne where Craig Bellamy made slowing down the ruck through various means an artform or blight on the game, depending on your perspective.
The other area where Fittler has complained post Origin I was the Maroons rushing up to pressure halfback Nathan Cleary with his kicks.
NSW made Cleary an easy target for the Maroons by not sharing the load. He put boot to ball 20 times with Jarome Luai doing so just twice, compared to Queensland spreading it between Daly Cherry-Evans (13) mainly on the left edge and Cameron Munster on the left (nine).
Again, the Blues have copped the referee’s interpretations begrudgingly on the chin when it comes to this facet of the game with Fittler and Cleary each saying they need to improve rather than whinge about Queensland’s tactics.
Not that he would expect any sympathy from Munster but the Queensland five-eighth made it clear on Wednesday that the Maroons would not be deviating from their successful formula.
“I’m not too sure of what’s going on with everything that’s in the media at the moment with kicking and everything but it’s a thing in the game where everyone’s trying to put a lot of pressure on the kicker,” Munster said.
“You’ve got to, these days, because a lot of the players have been practising and working so hard on their kicking game – it can really change a game.
“He’s an integral part of their kicking and that’s in the NRL as well. I’m sure he’s probably had his fair share of getting knocked to the ground so I’m sure not many people will change the way they play against him.
“It obviously just depends on what the referee’s feeling at the time.”
The Blues lost game one because they botched a few key moments.
If Cameron Murray had weaved his way through the Queensland defensive line as a decoy runner instead of stopping just before half-time, Junior Paulo’s try under the posts would not have been disallowed and they would have carried a 10-6 advantage into the break instead of a 6-4 deficit.
If Paulo had been more aggressive in breaking free of what was a relatively minor hold of his jersey from Lindsay Collins at the scrum for Daly Cherry-Evans’ try, then that would not have been a turning point.
Let’s not forget the Maroons were up that end of the field because Munster had beaten five half-hearted tackles in the centre of the NSW defensive line to storm into enemy territory.
The Blues had their chances, probably more all up than Queensland over the course of the 80 minutes, but the Maroons seized the moments better.
The referee’s interpretations were not the reason why the Blues lost game one and if they go into Origin II with that mentality weighing on their minds, the Maroons could be getting their hands on the shield again before the series finale next month in Brisbane.