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QUICK WRAP: State of Origin, men's game 1
31 May 2023 - Queensland play New South Wales in game 1 of the men's State of Origin series on Wednesday night at Adelaide Oval
Queensland put early points on the board, turning their first real attacking opportunity into six points with a smart grubber from Munster to Tabuai-Fidow and then adding another four on the set from the kick-off, as a slick right hand movement from Cherry-Evans to Walsh twisted the Blues around enough that it was simple for Holmes and Cobbo to finish off. The Maroons would then spend the better part of the next 30 minutes stoutly defending their line against repeated incursions from a clunky Blues attack. Cleary and Luai managed to crack the line eventually, finding an inevitable gap between Cherry-Evans and Holmes, but otherwise seemed to struggle to generate opportunities. On the rare occassions NSW did get over the line, Tualagi was there to hold them up with some incredible try savers. Queensland rarely ventured out of their own half when they did have the ball but survived with a 10-6 lead into half time.
Having failed to crack the Maroons’ through bludgeoning, the Blues turned to cheating to win the game1. Koroisau’s try should’ve been disallowed for a knock-on but the error from Holmes only spurred him to greater efforts later in the game. Trbojevic was the victim of a head knock and managed to parlay that into a sin bin of Tom Flegler, which was the last thing Queensland needed to galvanise them into winning the game. The Walsh-Cobbo connection delivered again in the narrowest of spaces. Tabuai-Fidow blitzed Josh Addo-Carr on the outside and made Tedesco look like late career Darius Boyd on his way to retaking the lead for the Maroons. Lindsay Collins’ recovery of otherwise innocuous kick is not quite Go Dozer but it’s in the same genre and entirely appropriate for the venue.
Origin 1, 2023 was a night of classic, resilient defence from every member of the team and a scintillating offence that took every opportunity to smoke the opposition
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The stat line was ugly at half time. The Blues had 56% ball, 23 sets, had made 863 metres. The Maroons had only had 18 sets and 563 metres. If that continued, it would not be possible for Queensland to win.
Queensland narrowed that 300 metre gap to just under 250 by full time, so while New South Wales tried and failed to smother in the first half, they changed their tactics to allow the game to open up or ran out of gas to enforce their will. If it was the former, it was a poor choice. If it was the latter, it just proves to Queensland that they just need to hold on like they did tonight and they’ll win the series.
I realised sometime after Monday’s newsletter and before this one that Origins are the most analysed games of the year and that I’m wasting my time adding more din to the cacophony.
However, this is a newsletter about rugby league in Queensland and this is one of the six biggest games of the year for the state2, so here we go with pure highlights.
While I lacked the guts to come out and say it, in case I found myself undermining the state’s preferred underdog status3, I found New South Wales’ favouritism extremely puzzling. Queensland won the last series. Queensland’s team is better than last year’s, while New South Wales’ is worse. Slater is better at this than Fittler. Analysis by Taylors is problematic but only because it systematically underestimates Queenslands’ odds and it had unprecedented love the Maroons. Unless you wanted to talk yourself into the Blues, there was no reason to do so. I didn’t think it would be a big win but the margin is also completely irrelevant.
The Maroons did struggle to make metres from about 10’ to 55’. After 55’, the game opened up, which was only going to suit Queensland. The Maroons’ attack was so efficiently deadly that the Blues had no response when they were asked to defend, despite the surplus of possession notionally favouring them. This is the biggest Queensland score since game 2, 2016 and should be cause for major concern for the Blues that the Maroons had half a dozen - at most - attacking opportunities and walked away with almost as many tries.
As I tweeted at half time of the World Cup semi-final last year, Nathan Cleary needs a very specific set of conditions to really thrive at representative football. These are a) another, better half to partner him (e.g. James Maloney) or b) a pack to absolutely demolish the opposition. Jarome Luai is not James Maloney and the Blues forwards delivered a measly +250 metres as a platform. Penrith’s attack in 2023 is so anemic that they only succeed through volume and I don’t think that’s going to translate at Origin.
Talk about Queensland being unable to handle games at ovals or more neutral crowds was unbelievably stupid. Adelaide is now 2-0, Melbourne has basically been a coin flip and the two games in Perth have overriding narratives that are far better explanations for what happened on the night (see below) than some hoodoo around ovals, or that the Maroons can’t ride the love or hate of the crowds in Brisbane and Sydney.
Rueben Cotter put in a career defining shift. Tom Gilbert literally turned maroon in the first scuffle. DCE had a mental break over his dropped ball. Reece Walsh more than lived up to expectations. I liked Munster going after Yeo early in the game. Billy Slater might want to consider just starting with 12 men in game 2 and see how that goes.
Pangai Jr didn’t exactly get out there and wreck shit, as he was expected to do, and we will see if he returns for game 2. Tedesco tried but looks absolutely cooked on defence. Luai probably needs to make way for Hynes to start to give the Blues something else in attack instead of the same left side shift that worked one (1) time and the same attacking kicks from Cleary that also worked one (1) time. The repeated throwing of Paulo at the line didn’t look like it was going to do much if the Maroons kept throwing bodies at him. I hope Hudson Young reflects on his attempt to be a pest in a losing side.
In 2019, 2020 and 2022, Queensland snatched a somewhat surprising first game victory. They then got smacked around in game 2 of those series, probably from a mix of overconfidence that they would continue their form and underestimating the will of the Blues to keep the series alive. A similar thing happened to the Blues in 2017. I am so confident of a 20 point Blues victory in game 2, we may as well skip ahead to game 3.
On Monday, I denigrated Origin coverage as “make-work for self-important journalists”, which I slightly regret the phrasing of. Most coverage is fine, albeit it’s not for me and I’m reluctant to attempt regurgitation on this page, but some of it is bland and there are certain personalities that insist on inserting themselves into the spectacle. Then there is the absolutely deranged:
O’Connor said maroon was an “oddball colour”, and “not that brighter-coloured red often associated with a winning team”.
“You will laugh at this, but women who wear red have a greater aphrodisiac effect on heterosexual men,” O’Connor said.
“It’s as important as waist-to-hips ratio and facial symmetry.
“It only applies to male heterosexuals viewing females, not rugby league players; it has a lot of positive connotations, but in other contexts.”
-Leading colour psychologist explains why NSW’s navy-blue strip is a winner, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 May 2023
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It’s either this or refs faulting, make your choice.
3 men’s Origins, 2 women’s Origins and the Queensland Cup final.
Although I did start writing these notes at 10am this morning, which means my superstition is overriden by my desire to get this out and go to bed as soon as possible.