Erin Molan, NRL.com
Well, game over – and game on!
How to explain the euphoric conversion of the ‘feeling’ that so many NSW supporters had pre-game into the emphatic and impressive 14-6 victory to the Blues in the series opener? The widely acknowledged ‘feeling’ that the consecutive Maroon victories may just stop at seven was a constant theme of previews and expert predictions, and so it may come to pass.
A colossal home crowd turning up to any contest is going to make a difference. Paul Gallen was one of many members of Laurie Daley’s squad who identified that the fans’ support would be a huge factor in the outcome of the match, a truly powerful influence, and who correctly forecast that well over 60,000 Blues fanatics would raise their voices as one to get the fancied New South Welshmen over the line.
Probably all 80,830 spectators were expecting the Blues to start fast and hard – I think very few would have anticipated witnessing quite the speed and force on display in the opening minutes of the game – a speed estimated by Maroons back-rower Sam Thaiday as being ‘a million miles an hour’. To be honest, he was not far off the mark.
But those of us who can recall, with frustrating clarity, the consistency of the mighty Maroons’ efforts to nullify the effect of the home crowd when it mattered most over the past seven years are now scratching our heads. Yes this is a squad getting older, yes this was a group with some injury doubts, but there was more than that – from the time they ran onto the field this team of champions, and champion team, just didn’t ‘look’ good. Stars seemed to be struggling, passion seemed to be lacking and opportunities that would once have been magically exploited were instead squandered.
Capturing the narrative of this match is not confined to the extraordinary parallels of the fervent fans and the inspired and stylish Blues’ play. When it was needed, Gallen’s boys abandoned style and flashy brilliance, and got stoic, dogged and formidably tough. Their defence early in the second half was particularly encouraging for those of us whose thoughts had already wandered to Suncorp Stadium on 26 June, but more of that later.
Pride, passion and the much-hyped self-belief were on show, but rookie coach Daley had also nurtured a dimension beyond that in his charges – a comfort in their own skins. The crowd I think sensed that, and responded – unquestionably there was hysteria when we had the Gallen-Myles biff, and the odd hint of hysteria when we had a bit more hint of biff, but the majority of spectators were focused on the big picture.
Enough has been enough for all NSW supporters; onlookers at ANZ Stadium seriously appreciated the effective and at times brilliant footy being played by the obviously better side. Mal Meninga must be disappointed and concerned when contemplating the very few occasions during the 80 minutes when his disjointed crew looked threatening.
Notwithstanding his disappointment and concern, Mal will take his boys back to Brissie and bunker down to do what he does best – come up with a winning formula.
Undoubtedly a vital part of the equation will be relying on upwards of 40,000 screaming Maroon fans being in the 52,500-seat Suncorp Stadium on the night of Game Two to will their heroes home. Those who watched Game One will surely appreciate the enormity of this challenge.
Ladies and gentleman, I am delighted to confirm that in this year’s state versus state, mate versus mate, we finally have a real contest on our hands. If you hold a ticket to any game, whether you attend proudly sporting a maroon jersey, or resplendent in a blue wig, you are destined to play a very important role in this contest – lucky you!