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QUICK WRAP: State of Origin, women's game 1
1 June 2023 - Queensland play New South Wales in game 1 of the women's State of Origin series on Thrusday night at Western Sydney Stadium, Parramatta
There’s probably never been an arm wrestle contested with so much space afforded to both sides. Both the Blues1 and Maroons were slow off the line, allowing both sides an expanse through which to roam and find metres. When combined with the relative rustiness of both sides’ handling2 and the referee’s propensity for allowing the penalties to pile up early in the game, it was a back and forth affair with minimal opportunities to build sustained pressure. Tamika Upton correctly identified that the Blues’ left side defence had its weaknesses and forgoing an easy grubber in behind two tackles earlier3, chose to swing the pass wide and found Julia Robinson to open the scoring. Tarryn Aiken made what initially looked like a sub-optimal pass to throw Tazmin Gray headfirst at the line on the last, but Gray powered over the smaller defenders - four of them in the end - to put the Maroons up 10-6 at half time.
The Blues returned to the field for the second half with little more to offer than they had in the first. They did not resort to cheating, except for Sarah Togatuki who decided to tackle Keilee Joseph without the ball and give her enough of a knock that Joseph had to get a HIA. Somehow Togatuki remained on the field. I assume this means that the NRL believes that women’s brains do not require the same level of protection as men’s, a discovery I’m sure the medical world will be agog to learn.
The Maroons tidied up their game slightly, defended well and scrambled better and ultimately capitalised on the Blues’ reliance on simplicity. Shenae Ciesiolka absolutely rinsed Southwell by taking an entirely conventional interception and running three-quarters of the field, only to be run down by Jaime Chapman. Chapman’s tackle was made irrelevant by Queensland simply passing the ball to open space to put Emily Bass over in the other corner. Julia Robsinon happened to sit on the end of a right side shift that saw Ciesiolka come from the next postcode to shovel on a pass from Upton that would ultimately seal a Maroons victory, after another 25 minutes of hard graft to keep an insipid and increasingly panicked Blues attack at bay.
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The half time stats had the yardage split almost exactly in line with the possession split, which the Maroons led 60-40, and slightly tipped in the Blues’ favour in the post-contact department. While the possession and yardage gap had narrowed by the end of the game, it would be irrelevant as the Maroons took their opportunities and got the points out of their backs, while the Blues threw the ball to Southwell and hoped she could make something happen. It’s not a particular reflection on her skillset that she was unable to do so, but it is a reflection of New South Wales’ flaws as a team and as a state.
Curiously, Queensland led heavily in the kicking department at half time. Kicking metres were 127-36 and kick return metres was 72-9. Kick return metres were almost exactly even by full time, while the margin in kick metres remained fixed, so I’m not sure if this was a statistical blooper or if the Maroons’ kick chase was really that good.
Unlike the men’s game, I didn’t have a great deal of confidence that the Maroons would come out on top. Generally, I was worried that the Blues would have too much class and specifically, I was worried that Southwell was going to run riot. I should not have worried at all because a) Queensland just gets Origin and b) the Southwell hype train is in the process of getting out of control.
The Blues’ attack lacked diversity. When NSW tried anything other than the most basic structure, they scored (Sergis running an angle back inside, a scrum set play that Queensland had enough numbers on). Instead, the Blues were too slow to shift left or right or get in behind the line with grubbers and tried a few one-out hit-ups, all of which the Maroons had the measure of. While Queensland might have an edge in pace (excluding Jaime Chapman), their agility left something to be desired.
Southwell is going to be a pain to contain for the foreseeable future, however, I don’t believe that because she is the first of her generation4 to come through that there won’t be other similarly capable, if not better, players available to Queensland and New South Wales in the very near future. Then again, it’s not like New South Wales to over-hype a young half that they are desperately pinning their Origin hopes on (see also: Maddie Studdon).
Despite the limited time together, the Maroons played as a coherent unit. Like the men’s game, everyone did their jobs and did them well and that was enough to win the game. The handling errors will not be as frequent in game 2. The strike weapons on the outside really made the difference in a contest where the forwards were on a relatively even footing.
Not sure what was going on with the Maroons’ numbers in the first half but I would pay money for a Brill 0 Maroons jersey.
“According to New South Wales Blues hooker Keeley Davis, the Blues have more heart and that's the reason that they are going to win the Women's State of Origin opener.” NSW really should've aimed for more points because points are higher up the tie-breaking hierarchy. I think volume of heart sits below away points scored and above longest odds for any time try scorer.
The crowd was sparse - announced at just under 13k - but had that tone of all big women’s sporting events, which is lots of young girls screaming really loudly because they can. I hope the Blues are happy that they managed to disappoint almost every single one of them. They’re all going to play AFL now. Well done.
Allana Ferguson is somehow a more biassed commentator than Phil Gould, who is becoming increasingly generous to Queensland in his old age (?). What a world we live in.
The Blues have left themselves a huge task to win the series. While a 9 point win does not sound particularly difficult, it is in women’s football (with ten fewer minutes than the men’s game) and it is in Origin, and so the intersection of the two compounds the difficulty. It’s not impossible, especially when we consider the last Origin game played in Townsville, but the Maroons would be confident of winning the series.
It’s been 341 days since the Blues won a game in any Origin format. If Queensland win both game 2s, it’ll push out over a year. Are NSW in crisis? Not yet. There were periods in the 80s where the Blues went multiple years without a victory.
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I will not refer to them as the Sky Blues.
Probably something that could be solved with, say, 8 to 12 weeks of NRLW competition beforehand.
It’s already a try, NSW just don’t know it yet.
There are 1) pre-NRLW players that were all retired by the end of 2018; 2) the first NRLW players that were young enough to come into the pro ranks but without the complete pathway behind them; and now 3) this generation that’s had the pathway from juniors to elite in place the whole time.