BY CURTIS WOODWARD
State of Origin rugby league is a marathon run over two different terrains. The first forty minutes is a drag race down the German Autobahn. The second forty is a dog fight through the deepest jungles of the Amazon.
The New South Wales Blues had every right to be confident at half-time.
Their forwards rolled down the middle of Suncorp. Damien Cook darted, James Tedesco followed. The clinical Blues looked every bit the champions they were in 2018. Queensland had their chances and despite the score, the effort was there.
Is there anything more dangerous than a wounded QLD side?
Not only were they down at the break but a ‘NSW’ chant echoed around the hollowed Lang Park arena several times in the first stanza.
How many times have we been here before?
A star-studded NSW team. Too fast, too skilful. QLD on the back foot.
Then, as State of Origin has down so many times before, the beating heart of the team that wants it more shines through.
QLD surged after half-time.
They kept coming.
NSW gave it back.
But the Maroons wanted it more.
Luckily for the Blues, the next game is in Perth. The frustration of this loss should inspire them on an even faster track at Optus Stadium. A win there will give them home ground advantage in Game III.
Now let’s look at individual performances.
Already on social media, some are calling for NSW halfback Nathan Cleary’s head.
Only in NSW.
In your writer’s opinion, Cleary was gutsy as hell.
He defended and defended strong. Perhaps some forget he’s 21 and had nothing to play off in the second half. His forwards lost the battle. How much can you do?
The young pivot sprayed a couple of kicks and is never going to step off his left, explode through defenders and run around a fullback.
Give the kid a chance.
His opposite, Daly Cherry-Evans, was better, there’s no doubt.
Tedesco was the best on the field.
Queensland’s Cameron Munster was dangerous throughout the night. Some of the things he did made it clear he’s going to be a thorn in NSW’s side for the next decade.
Cook can only work off a fast play-the-ball. He isn’t Cameron Smith. Cook’s skillset needs his middle forwards on the front foot. When he has space, he’s arguably the most dangerous footballer on the planet.
And if we’re going to salute Cleary’s toughness than we have to talk about Ben Hunt. A halfback at NRL level, many good judges, including the retired Cooper Cronk, believed Josh McGuire would start at hooker. Hunt channelled Trevor ‘The Axe’ Gillmeister and did it well. Not just in the 5th minute but in the 70th minute.
Then there’s Kalyn Ponga.
With all due respect to Kalyn, the young star looked a little off. But eventually, he got there, found his second wind and helped win them the game. A late sideline conversion missed. He had another chance a few minutes later and was zero chance of missing that one. That came moments after setting up Dane Gagai’s try in the corner.
But through it all and all the analysis we’ll hear over the next few days, you’re only as good as your last performance.
On Wednesday night, rugby league was the winner.
How could you not stand and praise our great game?
It could have gone either way.
This was Origin at its very best.
One of the best Origin games ever. Both Paul Vautin on Channel Nine and Luke Lewis on ABC said so.
How lucky are these Western Australians? You lucky bastards.
Roll on Game II.