New South Wales Blues vs Queensland Maroons – Sunday night – Perth Stadium
New South Wales Blues
- James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
- Blake Ferguson (Parramatta Eels)
- Tom Trbojoveic (Manly Sea Eagles)
- Jack Wighton (Canberra Raiders)
- Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm)
- James Maloney (Penrith Panthers)
- Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers)
- Daniel Saifiti (Newcastle Knights)
- Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
- Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Boyd Cordnor (c) (Sydney Roosters)
- Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
- Dale Finucane (Melbourne Storm)
- Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Cameron Murray (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
- Wade Graham (Cronulla Sharks)
Coach - Brad Fittler
- Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights)
- Corey Oates (Brisbane Broncos)
- Michael Morgan (North Queensland Cowboys)
- Will Chambers (Melbourne Storm)
- Dane Gagai (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
- Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm)
- Daly Cherry-Evans (c) (Manly Sea Eagles)
- Dylan Napa (Canterbury Bulldogs)
- Ben Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons)
- Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders)
- Felise Kaufusi (Melbourne Storm)
- Matt Gillett (Brisbane Broncos)
- Josh McGuire (North Queensland Cowboys)
- Moses Mbye (Wests Tigers)
- Jarrod Wallace (Gold Coast Titans)
- Tim Glasby (Newcastle Knights)
- David Fifita (Brisbane Broncos)
Coach - Kevin Walters
* Note that team lists are subject to considerable change and will be updated as soon as possible.
It's a peculiar thing sports journalism. Last year the NSW-based media were calling Blues coach Freddie Fittler the best thing to happen to Origin since forever. He was a bit different. He was approachable. He was happy to talk to (and comfortable in front of) the media. He dressed like a man who was heading out to an art gallery opening after the hooter sounded. He went from coaching Lebanon to coaching NSW and, most importantly, he won them a series with his first crack. One year on, and with the series well and truly alive, the NSW-based media are questioning the man in black. And when I say questioning, I mean questioning his faculties.
Is Freddie mad? Has he lost the plot? What's he doing? They could ask him I suppose. That's their job, and I'm sure Freddie would give them an answer.
Of course, this questioning the faculties of an Origin coach is something we're pretty familiar with, because they were doing exactly the same thing with QLD coach Kevvie Walters before game one. Kevvie and Freddie – a pair of loons in charge of the clipboards for what is one of the great sporting series on the planet.
The madness of King Kevin got results, so our media buddies, always looking for a new angle and something to say, have swung the pendulum the other way and focused their accusations on King Freddie. Freddie will smile and laugh it off, as he does, but will his form of 'madness' get results?
Phil Gould, cut from a different block of wood to most, suggested after game one that the difference between the two sides was a length of the field intercept. It was the only points QLD scored when NSW were down to 12 men. Phil argued there really wasn't much between the sides. He could very well be right – that was certainly the difference on the scoreboard and I'm sure Phil has watched that first game ten more times than I have. What Phil didn't mention was the number of tries QLD nearly scored. Oates puts a foot on the sideline on his way to the stripe. Napa fails to ground the ball as he falls on it next to the uprights. Gillett is fouled in the act of scoring near the posts. QLD could have won that game by a much wider margin. They didn't, but I don't think you can ignore the fact that QLD created more scoring opportunities than NSW, and they dominated the middle third of the field in the second half. The other thing we shouldn't ignore is that NSW, whose scoring opportunities were much more limited, usually capitalised when an opportunity came up. The only time I can recall they didn't was the Wighton intercept to Gagai – a key turning point in the game.
Some of the changes to the NSW team were thrust upon them, some by choice. Two things jump out at me when I look at the NSW seventeen:
- They have two centres who aren't specialist centres – this is a key position because so many tries in Origin (especially the early tries) are scored by the wingers. Centres play a key role in attack and defence when it comes to scoring and stopping those tries on the edges. Tommy Turbo is a star and has played out of position before, but he's not a centre. I can't recall if Wighton has played any senior footy in the centres...but I doubt it. They're replacing two specialist centres – one is a senior player who made eight tackle breaks in the first half of game one, and the other was being lauded as the best player in the game only a month ago. Morris was squaring off against Michael Morgan, playing out of position himself, and that might explain why Morris made eight tackle breaks. It's a huge punt by Fittler. Perhaps he is crazy after all.
- They have two specialist props in their seventeen – the game went through a period where it was all about back-rowers, and perhaps we are still in that period, but prop forwards lay the platform, and the great coaches (Bennett, Bellamy, Hasler, Robinson) know how to rotate your props through the 80 minutes and get the best out of them. One of their props is making his debut, and Saifiti and Vaughan can't play Origin for 80 minutes. Vaughan played for 40 in game one. Finucane and Sims will need to be used as props off the bench, and they'll have to give 40+ minutes of time on the field in that role. They're great footballers, but it's an ask. Note that QLD have four props in their seventeen, and two forwards (Fifita and McGuire) who can do it if they have to.
While those two points are points of concern, the primary reason I'm tipping QLD to win the series on Sunday is the playmakers. The NSW halves (Cleary and Maloney) have plenty of experience together but they are hardly setting the world alight in attack. Penrith have scored 12, 4, 10, 15, 19 and 19 points in their last six games. Yeeesh! Munster and Cherry-Evans combined well in game one, and there's no reason they won't be better in game two. Note that Munster, Ponga and Oates combined on the left edge to score a try in the 52nd minute, and then Cherry-Evans, Ponga and Gagai combined to score on the right edge in the 70th minute. They have options everywhere, and Ponga can slot in on either edge and deliver the sweetest of passes to a winger – right to left or left to right. How good is he? Rugby boo!!!!!!
Verdict – QLD 22 to defeated NSW 14
First try scorer – Cameron Munster
Man of the Match – Kalyn Ponga