The three-minute stretch to keep Madge awake at night


The stark difference between the NSW and Queensland game plans last year was laid bare in the opening minutes of what was ultimately a series-deciding Game 2.

Queensland kick off with NSW completing a solid and unsurprisingly conservative first set, for Mitchell Moses to kick to the corner. The Maroons get to tackle four of their set, before Tom Trbojevic gives away a penalty for lying on David Fifita too long in the ruck.

As he’s lining up the kick to touch, Daly Cherry-Evans turns to bellow instructions to his charges. From the tap restart Hamiso Tabuia-Fidow takes a settler on the first, getting the ball just over the 30-metre line on Queensalnd’s left edge. It’s from here that things start looking grim for NSW.

From Hammer’s play the ball, Fifita shapes to go into dummy half. Instead Ben Hunt sidles over and makes a show of pointing Fifita down the short side, aiming him at Moses.

Instead Hunt passes wide right to Cameron Munster. Munster continues going right crossing the paths of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Pat Carrigan. Either looks set to take the pass. Munster dummies to them before passing behind the third decoy runner on his outside, Tom Flegler, on to DCE.

DCE in turn has Reuben Cotter and Reece Walsh on his outside. Cotter is running a line back in with Walsh cutting wider. DCE passes behind both to Valentine Holmes who is on the verge of getting outside Stephen Crichton. Critta comes up with a bootlace tackle on Holmes before Val can draw NSW left winger Josh Addo-Carr and release Selwyn Cobbo.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

So one play and Queensland’s halves have already had five decoy runners – who, maybe apart from Flegler, were all in a position to receive the ball should their playmakers require it. It’s only 2:20 into the game as Holmes plays the ball.

Walsh jumps into dummy half and hands off to Cotter for a settler. Interestingly, Walsh shapes to go into dummy half, but then realises what his next assignment is and sprints from the far right of the field to try and get in position for Queensland’s next play.

Hunt jumps into dummy half. This time Carrigan is standing in at first receiver and he has Flegler on his inside and Tino on his outside running what end up becoming decoys. Importantly, both players stay behind the ball so they’re live chances of getting a pass. Because they’re both in play, the Blues defence has to hold a fraction of a second longer.

Carrigan, though, ignores his runners and passes in front of Tino to Munster who’s positioned just outside the left hand upright. Of note, as Munster catches the ball, Walsh is still sprinting behind play to get in position. Munster, again, has runners inside and out. He runs across Fifita’s line before shaping to pass to a charging Hammer, but instead goes behind to a flying Walsh who has finally caught up to the ball.

Walsh gets to the outside of his man (Turbo) and manages to get Brian To’o interested, but he’s probably heading slightly too far across field. To’o is able to turn and combine with James Tedesco to put Murray Taulagi into touch a metre short from the NSW line.

It was his desperate tackle on Walsh that saw Turbo tear his pectoral muscle. A lot of Blues fans put the big Game 2 loss down to Turbo’s injury and Brad Fittler’s bizarre decision to play Damien Cook in the centres for 76 minutes, but the writing was already on the wall.

It was a theme throughout the whole game. Even on non-attacking sets Queensland regularly had players shaping to take a hit up either side of the ruck or either side of the first receiver. NSW play was mostly one out. Even when they looked to go a couple of passes wide it was usually pretty obvious who the intended target was going to be.

So, what relevance does that have for this year’s series? NSW’s challenge comes both sides of the ball.
The Queensland team will be largely the same. Tom Dearden will be slotting in for Munster, but otherwise their Game 1 backline will be the same. Ditto Hunt and Grant. They’ve got a few changes in the forwards, most notably Fifita’s omission but guys like Cotter, Carrigan, Lindsay Collins and Moe Fotuaika all know their assignment.

Queensland’s combinations will be a year more cohesive. If there’s been an idea that there’s not much coaching you can do in 10 days at this level, Billy Slater has called BS on that. NSW will be fielding three debutants in their backline, plus Nicho Hynes at 7 whose sole Origin appearance has been a disappointing 12-minute cameo at centre. Plus Jarome Luai, who was dropped for Game 3 last year after losing in four of his previous five Origins.

NSW simply must come up with more with the ball. Rugby league isn’t as simple a game as its detractors would have you think. Big effort plays definitely win Origin moments, but playing smart to get in position to win has been the missing ingredient for NSW for most of the past four years.

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