Why am I not over excited about tonight’s Origin game? It’s the creme de la creme of the rugby league calendar. Isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be glued to the tv come 7:30pm AND I’ll be chomping on every one of my sadly forlorn fingernails in the hope that my beloved Blues can somehow, someway, etch out a long overdue series win. But something’s missing. Where did the “rats ‘n filth” go? Where are the “two heads”? I miss the trash talk. Not the Anthony Mundine crap. Just the clever banter. “The Queenslanders are too old!”. Aren’t they? They were old last year. I know I speak out of line and it’ll be construed as barbaric, but I miss the punch-ons. And I miss the shoulder charge. I get why we’ve sanitised the game to protect the players and evolved in line with society’s standards. Why can’t we just bend the rules for Origin? I don’t want cage fighting. Just fire! Maybe I’m over the “hand-bags at 10 paces”. Maybe I miss Sam Thaiday being third-man-in? Maybe I want to look forward to David Klemmer giving it Corey Parker? Surely, it can’t hurt the promotion of the game? The players won’t object. Surely? It’s supposed to be gladiatorial isn’t it? State v State. Mate v Mate. Hate v Hate? Wasn’t that the mantra that this concept was predicated on?
For some reason, this year’s Origin is completely devoid of hatred and controversy. The best we’ve got so far is a stir up from the Daily Telegraph accusing some of the Queensland players of being hopelessly out of form. The other hot topic is Cooper Cronk’s ankle and the cat and mouse games the Queenslanders are playing. Really? Is that the best we’ve got? Please! Wake me up when it’s over! I hate the fact that the respective coaches Kevin Walters and Laurie Daley are great mates and appear together on Fox on a weekly basis. Haven’t we diluted this game enough already??? I haven’t heard one single shot in anger from any of the current players. Somebody PLEASE interview Tommy Raudonikis…or have they muzzled him as well? “Cattledog, cattledog. Where for art thou Cattledog?”[Deep sigh] OK, How will the game be played? For over thirty years, game 1 has always been the same. Given that, historically, the winner of game one has won 25 out of the past 34 series including six of the past seven series, typically, Game One is a low risk, arm wrestle played exclusively on key stats – Completions, Missed Tackles, Effective kicks and, what I think is the most important stat – Repeat sets. Given the expected rain and a slippery surface, the team that minimises mistakes, plays good field position and capitalises on opportunities, simply wins. The game will be played in the middle third and that’s the reason why I think, tactically, Laurie Daley will reshuffle his starting team. I think he’ll start with either Klemmer or Tamou at prop, shift Gallen to lock, shift Bird to left edge and start Cordner on the bench. It’s obvious NSW will focus on dominating the middle. Conversely, Queensland will look to kick on early tackles or shift early to move the big Blues forwards around. They will use their back five to run from dummy half at every opportunity. Once they’re in “good ball”, it’s over to their experienced spine to run the show and direct their edge runners like Thaiday, Gillett and Papali at the smaller/inexperienced halves.
I believe it’ll come down to the performance of the NSW halves – Maloney and Reynolds. If they can kick effectively (“find the grass” and get repeat sets), direct the forwards, keep it simple AND TACKLE, there’s enough impact off the bench and speed in the backline to capitalise on any semblance of space created by the forwards. I just hope there’s some second phase play to break up the Qld defence. This is where someone like Fifita will be crucial. The addition of Josh Morris (replacing the injured Josh Dugan) has only enhanced the Blues’ defensive capabilities, so hopefully, they can contain whatever the Maroons throw at them. On paper, NSW look the better team…but we know where that piece of paper usually ends up! Queensland has the better spine: Boyd-Thurston-Cronk(if he plays)-Smith. Wow! How do you beat a spine that includes two immortals? Tough, but not impossible.
Who wins? By how much? First Try Scorer? Man of the Match?
NSW to win by two… they have a great record in Sydney and Adam Reynolds’ superior goal kicking may prove the difference.
First Try Scorer? Given the conditions, I’m guessing an edge runner like Gillett, Thaiday, Cordner (if he starts) or Jackson scores first. For the value, I’d go Matt Gillett.
Man of the Match? I’m going with Matt Moylan. I’ve always referred to him as a Darren Lockyer clone. He’s got the perfect temperament and skills for this arena.
Either way, I just hope the game delivers the excitement and entertainment that has been so sadly lacking pre-game. C’arn Blues!!