Former Queensland greats Shane Webcke and Mark Coyne have warned the Maroons that their slow starts in this year’s series are threatening their six-year State of Origin dominance, with both admitting NSW are perfectly placed to spring a Suncorp Stadium surprise in the decider.
Queensland survived an early Blues onslaught in Game One in Melbourne, eventually prevailing 18-10 on the back of a stunning first-half defensive effort. But after again conceding an early try last night and struggling to find their feet until midway through the second half, they head to Game III with NSW still alive and threatening to win their first Origin series since 2005.
“At [Suncorp] in a couple of weeks’ time, if we let them get off to that start again it may well blow out a bit at the back end,” warned Webcke, a veteran of 21 games for Queensland between 1998 and 2004. “NSW are a side building in confidence and that win would have given them a massive boost. The first game would have done that too, but the second one would confirm in their own minds that they’re on the right track. So you can imagine if they get that same start in Game Three where that belief goes.
“It’s a very dangerous thing for Queensland and we need to look at the way we’re starting.”
More than just starting both games slowly, Webcke suggested complacency may well have infiltrated the Queensland ranks as they looked to win a record seventh consecutive Origin series.
Worryingly for the Maroons, NSW have been the first to score in all four halves of football so far, including the telling period shortly after half-time in Game Two when the Blues scored two quick tries while Cooper Cronk was in the sin-bin.
“The problem is that we’ve got some pretty old heads in that side that have been there and done it and sometimes that can lull you a little bit,” Webcke explained. “I don’t mean any disrespect to the blokes by that but they are very confident in their own ability and sometimes that confidence breeds a little bit of complacency.
“Queensland are probably thinking: ‘We’ll let this mob have their go and we’ll round them up at the end’ – which is a dangerous way to approach it.
“Having said that, I think it would have been jolted out of them after last night.”
Webcke’s comments are supported by former Maroons centre Coyne – scorer of the famous (or infamous, depending on what colour jersey you support) ‘Try from Hell’ back in 1994 – who believes Queensland should be looking to destroy the Blues’ confidence from the opening whistle in the decider.
“It’s something we need to look at,” he said. “You don’t want them to dominate in any part of the game and to do so early probably gave them a lot of confidence. You’d prefer to knock the confidence out of them early in the game so we definitely need to start a bit better.”
The Origin series has reached a decider four times over the past six years, with last year’s 34-24 win to the Maroons the first time the deciding match has been played at Suncorp during their winning run.
The Blues again face an uphill battle to win back the trophy in Brisbane in three weeks’ time but Coyne said this current NSW squad looked far more settled than those in recent seasons.
“I think the fact that they’ve got some stability in the halves is a huge thing for them – both of their halves played really well last night, particularly Todd Carney,” he said. “Their front row is really impressive too. We saw what James Tamou is capable of in Game One and Tim Grant looked the goods last night. So they’ve got a formidable team now that is certainly capable of winning the series.”
Webcke expressed similar a similar view.
“The gap between the sides has been closed now and winning in Brisbane is the last step for NSW,” he said. “If you’re going to fault NSW on one thing it’s that there are periods in the game where they stop playing and last night was a bit that way. I thought there were a couple of times they had the foot on the throat and had a great chance to take the game away from Queensland, but they’re just lacking that killer blow.
“That’s the next step. If they get that then they will have truly closed the gap because if there is one thing Queensland know how to do, it’s win a game. Once they put their noses in front you’re very seldom pulled back. If NSW start to get that right and seize the moment then we’ll know we’re alive.”
The Maroons have some injury worries heading into Game Three with fullback Billy Slater to find out the severity of a knee injury late today, winger Brent Tate twisting an ankle and forward Corey Parker suffering a severe gash to his leg. However it is Slater that remains the greatest concern given the influence he has on Queensland’s success.
The good news for the Maroons is that they have plenty of options with Greg Inglis, Darius Boyd, Ben Barba and Matt Bowen all viable options.
Webcke also pointed to centre Justin Hodges as an under-rated performer at the back although he said it would be hard to go past Inglis given his performances for South Sydney this season.
“He has been outstanding at fullback at NRL level so I think he would be the obvious choice,” Webcke said.
“The only question is whether they’d be willing to weaken their three-quarter line, but it’s nice to have so many options.”
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