New South Wales delivered one of their most dominant State of Origin performances in years to win the first game 28-4 last night. Is Queensland’s time up, or were they just missing JT?
How good were NSW?
Full credit to Laurie Daley and his team for turning back the clock and putting in an old-school Origin effort.
NSW had stars all across the paddock. Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco put all the contract nonsense behind him and put in an Origin performance for the ages, tearing it up on attack and defending like Gandalf staring down a Balrog.
Prodigal son Jarryd Hayne was the lynchpin of NSW’s 2014 series victory and he was massively influential again in Game 1. Andrew Fifita played with the kind of controlled fury that made it seem like someone told he was playing against a team of junior referees.
— NRL (@NRL) May 31, 2017
The much-maligned Mitchell Pearce played with the sort of calm determination that told you he was very aware of the torrent of dog molestation memes that would be uncorked if he overplayed his hand and was responsible for a NSW loss. And debutant Nathan Peats performed two very important tasks in his first match in the sky blue – providing efficient service from dummy half to a dominant pack and not being Robbie Farah.
NSW’s biggest challenge now is to avoid getting ahead of themselves – if the last ten years have taught us anything its that Queensland isn’t dead until the body has been decapitated and the head drop-kicked over the black dot.
Where to now for Queensland?
The main question for Queensland entering the match was how they would cope with the injury-enforced loss of Origin stalwarts Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and Greg Inglis.
In previous editions Queensland have relied on their ability to drag legendary performances out of their lesser lights, confident that whoever pulled on the Maroon jersey would grow another leg to match their additional head. This time it seemed like Queensland had finally run out of magic and were confronted with the unfortunate fact that a team filled with out-of-form and over-the-hill players played less like Cinderella and more like pumpkins. In Game 1 it seemed like Queensland had reached a critical mass of mediocre players, their true Origin stars too few in number and unable to draw great performances out of the lesser lights.
— NRL (@NRL) May 31, 2017
Justin O’Neill’s Origin career looks cooked and a host of forwards, including Nate Myles, Aiden Guerra and Jacob Lillyman, were well off the pace. It would be unlike Queensland to make wholesale changes for a must-win match in Sydney but based on last night’s performance if the Banana Benders don’t try something radical then they can kiss the series goodbye.
In Game 1 Queensland looked like an ageing side desperately in need of an injection of youth. They will be hesitant to rely on Origin rookies in such a crucial clash but the spongey performance of the forwards and the gaping holes in the centres demands some new faces and an added dash of aggression. Coen Hess and Jarrod Wallace would add some starch to the bench and Cameron Munster and Valentine Holmes must come into calculations for the centres. Surely Billy Slater will be recalled to the custodian role and Johnathan Thurston is odds on to make the biggest comeback since Alfie. Queenslanders love an overwrought comeback story almost as much as Wayne Bennett loves Darius Boyd.
Why does the NRL continue to allow the scheduling of Origin to derail the NRL Premiership?
It’s been said before but the scheduling of Origin really needs to be re-assessed to stop it derailing the NRL season. The last round perfectly illustrated the absurdity of the impact of State of Origin on the integrity of the Premiership. The Broncos had their six-game win streak snapped at the hands of the previously woeful Warriors, largely attributable to the fact that they were missing nearly half their starting line-up. The resurgent Roosters showdown with the enterprising Raiders shaped as a blockbuster clash but ended up a damp squib due to the absence of crucial players.
It seems ludicrous that teams are forced to contest matches worth competition points with squads missing key members due to the NRL’s scheduling. While injury and suspension are matters of luck inherent to any sport, the scheduling of the Origin period punishes the best-performing sides. It strips them of them of their best players and forcing them to compete against other teams not necessarily disadvantaged in the same fashion. It is a simple principle of any fairly organized competition that each match should be of equal value in determining the best team, but in the NRL this is simply not the case.
If the NRL is hamstrung by broadcasting arrangements and can’t move all three Origin games to standalone weekends (creating the least amount of disruption to the NRL competition) then perhaps another solution would be viable – offering salary cap discounts to teams for players involved in Origin. If Cameron Smith misses three games for Melbourne and has limited involvement in another three then surely the Storm are due some sort of compensation? If they received dispensation for their players’ Origin involvement then they could use extra salary cap space to bolster their squad in other ways. Obviously this assumes that the NRL doesn’t tacitly endorse an unfair system that allows mediocre teams to make up ground on the ladder at the expense of the better teams during the Origin period, creating an artificial boost that gives more clubs a chance of playing finals football – and increasing ratings and ticket sales at the business end of the competition.
Are Penrith contenders or pretenders?
After an underwhelming start, the chic pre-season Premiership pick Penrith find their season at a crossroads. Currently sitting in tenth and lying two points adrift of the top eight the Panthers have found their season cruelled so far by a rash of injuries, form slumps and off-the-field issues. In retrospect the Panthers were primed to underwhelm – a young team packed with talent facing massive expectations but short on big game experience. Crucially, they lack a coach with a track record of coaxing a team through such growing pains – at this point it seems like Anthony Griffin might belong to that middle class of mediocre NRL coaches who look the part but seem to struggle to add much to their team’s success.
Now Bryce Cartwright is out with a long term knee injury, prompting a re-shuffle of the backline, a move that might see Matt Moylan emulate Darren Lockyer moving from fullback to assume his destiny as a ball-playing standoff. One positive aspect of the Panthers’ form slump is that their squad is largely unaffected by Origin – if they had played up to their potential then they could well be missing the likes of Matt Moylan, James Tamou, Trent Merrin and maybe even Nathan Cleary and Tyrone Peachey.
— Penrith Panthers (@PenrithPanthers) May 30, 2017
Crucially for the Panthers only two of their next nine opponents currently have winning records with the added bonus of facing no top four sides in that span either. If Penrith are going to save their Premiership aspirations they will need to make their move in the next two months – fortunately they have the schedule to do it.
Are we overdue for a Bunker blow-up?
It feels like a while since there has been a match-defining Bunker breakdown. Is it possible that the NRL has ironed out the kinks with the much-maligned video ref system? Or is the Bunker just biding its time, waiting for the optimal opportunity to make a truly braindead decision that turns the tide of a crucial match? It would be just like the NRL to blow most of the goodwill built up by a cracking Origin match by ending a game on a truly inscrutable Bunker decision – I’m picking the Bulldogs-Panthers game to be a likely candidate for a match to be ruined by Bunker incompetence. It’s been a good while since we’ve enjoyed a proper Des Hasler blow-up as well and the Bunker seems tailor made to make Dessy see red. Bonus points if he can work a Harry Potter reference into his meltdown.
Match of the Round: Roosters vs Broncos
A sort of minor sequel to Origin, this match will see two top five teams square off to see who can recover from their respective Origin induced stumbles last round. A whopping 11 players are scheduled to back up in this, with the Broncos the worst affected with six players lacing their boots after playing on Wednesday. It’s always difficult to predict how the Origin hangover will impact player performance but the Broncos are well practiced in dealing with the phenomenon.
The Roosters are favoured as the home team but it’s hard to see the Broncos meekly submitting after last week’s loss to the Warriors – master coach Wayne Bennett will be hell bent on ensuring that their six-match winning streak isn’t succeeded by a multi-match losing streak. This has all the hallmarks of a Saturday evening classic – two rep-studded sides with premiership aspirations looking to fight off the Origin hangover and snag two vital competition points. Look for the Roosters to continue the week of Queensland misery and narrowly jag the win.
PICKS (Last Week 1-3, Season Record 56-36): Storm over Knights / Eels over Warriors / Dragons over Tigers / Roosters over Broncos / Cowboys over Titans / Raiders over Sea Eagles / Panthers over Bulldogs