Brad Fittler has to take the blame for NSW's shock State of Origin series loss. When somebody takes responsibility for wins, they have to…
With one hand on the State of Origin shield, Queensland can wrap up the series before they even host Game 3 with victory at Perth’s Optus Stadium on Sunday night.
In Billy Slater’s coaching debut, the Maroons pulled off an upset for the ages with a 16-10 victory at Accor Stadium in Game 1, the win masterminded by Slater’s former club and state teammate Cameron Munster.
Despite conceding the first try 15 minutes in, the northerners worked their way back into the match with a spectacular try via Dane Gagai, and an easy try off the scrum from captain Daly Cherry-Evans, on either side of halftime.
They repelled the Blues’ attack in the second half to hold on for what was their first win in Blues territory since Game 2, 2017.
This has them just one win away from reclaiming the shield for just the second time since 2017, when the state’s golden era was considered to have ended, around which time Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston announced their representative retirements.
Another win for Slater would see him join Kevin Walters in winning his first two matches as Queensland coach, and also him and Mal Meninga in winning a series on their first attempt.
From the side that defeated the Blues in Game 1, Xavier Coates and Reuben Cotter are the only changes, both of them forced through injury. Murray Taulagi has been named for his Origin debut on the wing, while Jai Arrow comes into the 17 after being 18th man for the first game.
A minor reshuffle in the run-on side sees Lindsay Collins move to prop forward, as Tino Fa’asuamaleaui moves to lock in Cotter’s absence.
The Queensland side to line up at Optus Stadium is as follows.
Kalyn Ponga, Selwyn Cobbo, Valentine Holmes, Dane Gagai, Murray Taulagi, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans (c), Lindsay Collins, Ben Hunt, Josh Papalii, Kurt Capewell, Felise Kaufusi, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Interchange: Harry Grant, Jai Arrow, Patrick Carrigan, Jeremiah Nanai. 18th man: Tom Dearden.
In: Murray Taulagi, Jai Arrow. Out: Xavier Coates, Reuben Cotter.
On the other side of the equation, the Blues find themselves 1-0 down in a series for the third time in four years, and coach Brad Fittler has accepted the criticism of his side’s Game 1 performance and made changes to the side accordingly.
Fittler’s side started strongly, scoring the first try through Jack Wighton 15 minutes in, but were left to pay the price after severely underestimating a Queensland side which had its pride severely dented after two horrible defeats in the first two games last year.
They trailed by 16-4 with less than 10 minutes left and ultimately left it too late, Isaah Yeo being tackled a metre short of the tryline when the full-time siren rang, leaving the Blues with a lot of catching up to do if they are to level the series and keep their shield defence alive.
There is only one forced change to the Game I side, with Wighton dropping out after testing positive to COVID-19, while Eels pair Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson, and centre Kotoni Staggs have all been dropped.
Apisai Koroisau and Jake Trbojevic both come into the run-on side, while Matt Burton and Siosifa Talakai has both been named for their Origin debuts.
Koroisau’s naming at hooker means Damien Cook has been demoted to the bench after 13 consecutive starts in the 9 jersey, while Panthers Grand Final hero Stephen Crichton has been promoted to starting centre alongside Burton.
Despite some recent strong form for the Bulldogs in response to being left out of the Game 1 side, Josh Addo-Carr has again been overlooked, with Daniel Tupou retaining his place on the wing.
Seven of the Blues’ starting 13 are from the all-conquering Penrith Panthers, and so Brad Fittler will be praying that these seven players carry their club form into the Origin arena and keep the series alive.
The New South Wales side to line up at Optus Stadium is as follows:
James Tedesco (c), Brian To’o, Matt Burton, Stephen Crichton, Daniel Tupou, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, Payne Haas, Apisai Koroisau, Jake Trbojevic, Cameron Murray, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo. Interchange: Damien Cook, Angus Crichton, Junior Paulo, Siosifa Talakai. 18th man: Nicho Hynes.
In: Matt Burton, Apisai Koroisau, Jake Trbojevic, Siosifa Talakai. Out: Kotoni Staggs, Jack Wighton, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Ryan Matterson.
This will be the second State of Origin match to be played at Optus Stadium, following Game 2 in 2019, which the Blues won by 38-6.
Recent history favours both sides, with the Blues having won each Sunday game since the series was revamped in 2018, and the Maroons having not lost a live decider at Suncorp Stadium (the venue for Game 3) since 2005.
However, only once since 2005 (in 2019) have the southerners come from 1-0 down in a series to win, meaning the pressure will be on Brad Fittler and his side to level the series as defeat would give the northerners a golden chance to complete a clean sweep on their home soil.
It will be game on from the first whistle, with the Blues determined to level the series before a potential Suncorp Stadium decider, while the Maroons will be aiming to go 2-0 up in the series and give Billy Slater the perfect start to his coaching career.
On neutral territory, and with their only changes being forced through injury, the Canetoads should get the job done.
Prediction: Queensland by six points.