Turning Blue

So Origin 1 is behind us and finally NSW will play the series from in front. It was a fascinating game, which had incidents, some brilliance and a potential sign of a change of fortunes.

Overall New South Wales were fantastic and it was exactly the sort of win they needed to allow them to play with confidence for the rest of the series to try and end the Queensland streak. Going into the game, most people seemed to believe that NSW held the edge in the forward pack whilst Queensland had a more dangerous backline and of course held the edge in the all-important spine of 1, 6, 7 and 9.

New South Wales built their foundation on that forward pack and overall they destroyed the Maroon’s forwards, forcing Thurston and Cronk to play on the back foot for most of the game. Guys like Gallen, Watmough and Greg Bird are built to play Origin and didn’t disappoint.

However the standout was clearly Luke Lewis, who had one of the great individual Origin performances. No he didn’t score a try or have that many highlight plays, but his hit ups, tackles and passes were extraordinary and he never stopped. He rightfully won the Man of the Match award and it was well deserved for a player who often doesn’t get the plaudits of some of his more flashy or exciting colleagues.

On the other hand, I thought Mitchell Pearce had a very mediocre game for a victorious NSW side. Before I get accused of Rooster hating, I thought James Maloney was superb on debut and Michael Jennings was brilliant too. Pearce however, was non-existent. The guy is playing halfback, which if you don’t know, is supposed to be a pretty important position in a football team and yet he seemed to barely touch the ball. When he did he mostly just dropped it off for a forward to take a hit up and my only memory of him throwing a longer ball was when he underthrew a pass to Lewis, which Lewis unfortunately couldn’t reel in.

Pearce is a solid defender and he wasn’t poor there, but he certainly was no halfback either. In such a great team performance his individual effort won’t cop much criticism and I know he won’t be dropped, but it still should be pointed out that we won in spite of him and not because of him. Oh, I also thought Ryan Hoffman had a surprisingly poor game with some bad drops and not much impact.

The standouts for NSW in my eyes were the aforementioned Lewis, the always awesome at Origin level despite his club form Jarryd Hayne, Maloney on debut, the ever reliable Robbie Farah and the “Bash Brothers” Bird and Gallen.

This brings me to the Paul Gallen punching Nate Myles incident. Yes, I understand that Origin has a different atmosphere and level of leniency, but in my eyes Gallen was very lucky to stay on the field. It doesn’t matter if Nate Myles is a dirty player or if he plays for Queensland, Gallen put a deliberate high shot on him and then when Myles got up unhappy about it, Gallen rocked him with two punches.

Would Myles have punched Gal if Gal didn’t do it first? Maybe. But that incident was all Gallen and regardless of what game it happened in, in my eyes it is not on. Had a Queenslander done it to a Blue, all of NSW would be crying foul and especially if it happened to a player from the individual club you support. So the idea of “that’s Origin” is bullshit in my eyes. Rugby league is a contact sport but it is not a combat sport, even at Origin. That wasn’t a fight; it was one player deciding to punch another.

So those fans who genuinely think it was awesome, or if you think it’s great because it happened to Nate Myles, I think you watch football for the wrong reasons and need to reconsider your values. I like a bit of Origin biffo as much as the next guy, but last night was not that. Anyway, NSW got a lucky break, but Queensland have had numerous breaks over the last few years so it was bound to even out and I don’t feel too bad.

Meanwhile, what about on the Maroon side of things? They finally looked old after a near decade of dominating the Origin arena. Their forwards were dominated, Thurston was completely out of sorts and even the Storm ‘Big Three’ struggled to impact the game.

Greg Inglis barely touched the ball and the one time he finally got decent possession he created Queensland’s only try. I doubt they will do it, but I think they need to switch Inglis and Slater in Game 2, at least at various points during the game to get Inglis involved. He is simply too important and valuable to them to not utilise more. Plus he is one of the few Queensland playmakers that can create without the forwards getting momentum first.

As a biased Souths and NSW fan however, I hope he stays at centre, barely touches the ball and simply gets through the game unscathed.

Another takeaway from the game last night is that we have all still played as much State of Origin as Josh Reynolds. I like Josh Reynolds and think he will play plenty of Origin in his career. It is not his fault he didn’t play, nor is it his fault he was selected at all. But this idea of selection a utility player for purely backup reasons and not even using him is insane to me. Origin is the hardest, fastest, most tiring form of footy and NSW are giving up one of their bench spots as a ‘break glass in case of injury’ backup plan.

It is no coincidence that as NSW forwards got tired in the second half; Queensland scored their try and came close to scoring more. Yes we won anyway, but it damn sure would have been a lot more comfortable if we had another player with fresh legs out there. I don’t care if it’s a prop like Tim Grant or a bigger utility that can cover halves like John Sutton, but all 17 positions should be utilised.

A win should never cloud over things that weren’t good just because the overall result was.

Finally, it is being reported that Robbie Farah may have a broken eye socket and is in doubt for Origin 2. That is a nightmare for NSW as Farah is probably the hardest player to replace in the entire team. Go on, name his direct replacement if he can’t play, I’ll wait….

Exactly.

Who are our options at 9 without Farah?

Michael Ennis? He’s a mediocre footballer and failed at Origin level already

Josh Reynolds? A good player and would have replaced Farah if Farah came off in Game 1, but he isn’t a hooker.

Mitch Rein and Nathan Peats? Like them both as youngsters but nowhere near Origin level right now and I don’t think either would argue that.

Ryan Hinchcliffe? To be honest I feel like I’d pick Hinchy out of these names even though he is mostly playing lock, but I wouldn’t be happy about it. At least I trust him as a player and feel like he’d handle the Origin cauldron, but the gap from Farah down to the other options is troubling to say the least.

If I’m forgetting anyone please let me know.

Anyway, NSW got a fantastic result in Game 1 and look like a great chance to finally reclaim the Origin crown. I’ll just spend the next three weeks praying to the great cockroach in the sky that Robbie Farah is back in time for the next instalment.

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