OK, I’ve put my analyst hat on, gazed into the crystal ball, contacted my clairvoyant as well as my astrologer and this is how I see the game being played tonight.
Queensland will try and “blitz” early as they often do at Suncorp Stadium. This means they’ll go all out attack at every opportunity. All the talk this week has been around Qld getting off to a good start. The aim of blitzing is to put the game out of reach early hence revert to percentage football once a sizeable lead has been established. This forces NSW into “catch-up” mode which invariably leads to mistakes. That’s the plan. How do NSW circumvent that strategy? Basics. Completions and a good kick/chase game. Keep them the hell away from our red zone ie the twenty metres from our own goal line. Easier said than done. The key is not only completions but also not conceding penalties and giving QLD a piggy back to our red zone. Have NSW ever gone close to winning a penalty count at Suncorp? Say no more.
This QLD team are absolute masters at isolating the smaller halfback or five eighth when attacking the opposition goal line. They usually go to their right side attack (our left side defence) with Sam Thaiday running “unders” at our halfback with Billy Slater sweeping behind the lead runner (in this case, Thaiday) to provide a decoy for our centre to focus on. This leaves Thaiday one on one with our smaller halfback desperately trying to hold him out. Thaiday is missing tonight but his replacement, Matt Gillett, is equally damaging. Trent Hodkinson will have his hands full trying to hold out Gillett. If the right side doesn’t work, they’ll go left where Chris McQueen will run at Josh Reynolds all night. If that doesn’t work, QLD then use McQueen as a decoy and Thurston then goes to Greg Inglis who invariably finds an unmarked Darius Boyd. How many tries has he scored untouched??
As you can see, QLD have various options when attacking our line. The other option, if NSW move up quickly in defence, is the grubber kick behind the defence. Thurston and Smith are masters at executing the grubber kick into the in-goal. Between Thurston, Cronk and Smith they very rarely make a bad decision.
The first 20 minutes is crucial. NSW has to control the tempo to suit them. Play it at their pace. Slow the play the ball, dominate the ruck, line speed is crucial. Choke the Queenslanders of space and possession. If NSW can do that, then they MUST throw some football at them. Don’t be lured into playing percentage football. This Qld team wrestle and slow the ruck better than any team in history. They love defending structured play. So, do the things they don’t want you to do. Play some creative football. Go wide early. Look for the offloads and second phase play. Kick on an early tackle and turn them around. This is where players like Jarryd Hayne and Josh Reynolds will come into their own. They thrive on ad-lib footy. So too does Luke Lewis. They’re pure footballers. What a pity Greg Bird and Andrew Fifita aren’t playing. This style is right up their alley.
Traditionally, game one is a tight, grinding, high percentage style game. I can see this one opening up. NSW don’t want to go to game two 0-1 down. The pressure in Sydney will be enormous. If they want to win this, they’ll need to take some chances and expect mistakes to occur. Defend the mistakes, then go again. Try and open up a 10-12 point lead. Don’t ever put the cue in the rack because you know QLD will come at you. QLD will be high on emotion, being the 100th game, the unveiling of the Arthur Beetson statue and the usual siege mentality pep talk they adopt before every game. The crowd of 100,000+ people (remember they all have two heads) will be baying for blood. Laurie Daley has to get his players minds ready for war. They’re the underdogs. Use it to motivate them. Ride the first 20 minutes, then let ‘em have it! I’m pumped! Enough bullsh@t talk. Let’s get stuck in!
First try scorer – Matt Gillett
NSW by 1
Score: NSW 23 QLD 22
Man of the Match: Jarryd Hayne