Five things New South Wales must do to seal the series
Button their lips: Paul Gallen’s ‘two-head’ crack aside, NSW gave Queensland nothing to feed off in the lead-up to Origin I – and the lack of pre-game spite worked in the underdogs’ favour. But the Blues’ motor-mouthed tendencies have taken over ahead of game two, with Greg Bird, Aaron Woods and Anthony Watmough leading the chest-beating. One day out from the biggest game in NSW’s Origin history, the main headline is Bird labelling Queensland winger Brent Tate a hypocrite. Stoking the silent, smouldering Maroons’ fire will not do the Blues any favours.
Get off to a good start: The Blues were caught on the hop yet again in Brisbane, conceding a try inside five minutes. Fortunately, Queensland’s momentum was arrested by Cooper Cronk’s exit and NSW was provided with a saloon passage back into the contest. The home side is unlikely to be so fortunate if they give their Origin overlords another head-start.
Shut down the Maroons’ left edge: Queensland’s left-side three-quarter pairing are the most potent try-scorers in Origin history – Greg Inglis has 15 tries in 22 games; Darius Boyd has crossed 14 times (including both of the Maroons’ tries in the series opener) in 18 games. They have lined up together in 16 of the last 18 Origins and in many Tests, while their instinctive combination with Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater will see NSW’s new-look right edge defence tested relentlessly. The Blues will have to be vigilant to prevent an avalanche of points down that side.
More of the same from Hayne and halves: The main differences between NSW’s game one performance and the vanquished Blues’ efforts of previous years was the superhuman display of fullback Jarryd Hayne, and the control and confidence displayed by new halves pairing Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson. Hayne was in everything at both ends, Reynolds was a tireless terrier, and Hodkinson’s kicking game was better than anything produced by a NSW halfback in years. A repeat from the key trio will give the Blues an outstanding platform for victory.
Ignore the weight of history: Aside from the Maroons’ plethora of experienced big-game superstars, the Blues’ biggest obstacle in Origin II will be their own self-doubt. The end of eight years of interstate oppression is tantalisingly within reach for NSW and nerves are bound to play a part. Treating any Origin showdown like ‘just another game’ isn’t an option, but the Blues are in uncharted territory and run the risk of panicking if they focus too much on the bigger picture rather than the 80 minutes in front of them.
Five things Queensland must do to level the series
Embrace the siege mentality: Queensland has not faced a great deal of adversity during its eight-season reign, perpetually blessed with healthy superstars and general good fortune since 2006. But, stricken by injury, the Maroons are 1-0 down and approach Wednesday’s must-win game as underdogs for the first time in years. They have not saved a series with a game two victory in Sydney since 1987, but Queensland’s Origin legacy is built on overcoming adversity and seemingly insurmountable odds. The experienced Maroons can use their setbacks, the Blues’ cock-a-hoop attitude and the baying, success-starved NSW crowd to their advantage.
Win the engine-room battle: Nate Myles was a colossus in the series opener and Matt Scott was solid without starring, but the Maroons’ starting props were not provided with enough support; consequently, the NSW pack gradually began to dominate. The injection of Sam Thaiday and Jacob Lillyman will ease the workload, while adding valuable experience and aggression. But Corey Parker’s withdrawal really puts the onus on under-performing back-rowers Chris McQueen and Ben Te’o to produce big hit-up and tackle tallies – and make sure each one of them leaves a mark on their opponents.
Target NSW’s right edge: Laurie Daley and the Blues have gambled on out-of-position pair Josh Dugan and Will Hopoate to replace the injured Morris twins, and Queensland will undoubtedly try to exploit them. In the vastly experienced left-side combination of Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd, the Maroons have the best weaponry in the business to do so. Capitalising on Dugan’s defensive indecisiveness at centre could prove productive, while they will surely aim to work the specialist fullback over as often as possible.
Halves must dominate: Whether it’s hobbled genius Daly Cherry-Evans or livewire debutant Ben Hunt partnering Johnathan Thurston, Queensland requires a commanding display from their No. 6 and 7. And the combination that takes the field needs to refocus Queensland’s attacking structure. The Maroons were a one-trick pony on offence in Origin I with Cronk sidelined, sweeping it out wide to Inglis or Hodges and hoping for a one-on-one miss. Queensland opened up the defence in the opening minutes with hard, straight running and short passes; concentrating on playing direct before spreading it to the danger-men will create more scoring chances.
Get dirty: Myles was ferocious and Justin Hodges was typically combative, but on the whole Queensland was too polite in the series-opening loss – they were well covered by the Blues in the aggression stakes. The Maroons have to match that fire, even if it means conceding a couple of penalties. In Josh Reynolds, Greg Bird and Anthony Watmough, among others, NSW will field several short-fused customers who can be rattled and put off the task at hand with a bit of niggle.