Sterling Gold: Lessons NSW must learn for Origin II
There is no doubting how brave the New South Wales Blues were in going down to Queensland in this year's Origin opener, but with the sands of time the only things that will be remembered are the 16-12 score-line and the continuation of the Maroons' dominance.
With the northerners in the box seat to win their sixth straight series, it is now up to the Blues to show that they have learnt enough from that first encounter to reverse the result and force a decider. Win the remaining two matches against arguably Queensland's greatest ever squad and the history books will then be highlighting one of Origin's most outstanding comebacks.
If NSW are to cover themselves in glory there are a number of things that must change.
It begins with their opening 20 minutes, where in recent series they have been dominated and immediately put on the back foot.
At Suncorp the trend was set in the opening four sets.
After receiving the kick-off Queensland worked the ball to half-way for Darren Lockyer to kick deep for Josh Dugan to catch the ball close to his own line.
NSW's return set featured a forced Jason King pass that was lucky to have not been ruled a knock-on and finished with a Mitchell Pearce kick from his own 30-metre line.
Billy Slater caught this on the full on his own 30 and linked with Jharal Yow Yeh.
When it was time to kick the Queenslanders were already in an attacking position and again Dugan was forced to catch a Johnathan Thurston bomb on his own line.
The end of the Blues' set was a Pearce kick from just 25 metres from his own try-line, fielded by Darius Boyd just inside his own half.
Queensland scored in this set.
NSW showed plenty of resilience to recover from this complete lack of field position and an early 70%-30% possession rate, but there was already some damage done on the scoreboard and physically it was always going to take a toll.
Wednesday night they must somehow reverse this trend and blunt the go-forward of Petero Civinoceva, Matt Scott and co to grab the early advantage. It would appear that the selection of a much smaller pack suggests this will be achieved by superior mobility to avoid collisions and being gang-tackled.
The overall kicking game must also be improved.
It made no sense that their main man in this department, Jamie Soward, did not put boot to ball until the 17th minute. That was after Mitchell Pearce had taken on the responsibility of taking the first four kicks.
He didn't kick particularly poorly but was put under pressure and generally doesn't kick as long or find open spaces as often as Soward.
In his debut Origin game the Dragons five-eighth may have found it difficult to get into the match, but if he is to take on more "ownership" his expertise in this area must come to the fore much earlier.
The good sign was that the longer the game went the better he looked, with some important and effective reads in defence standing out.
Origin is very much about maintaining pressure and the attacking kicking game of the Maroons was vastly better.
They were able to force a mammoth six line drop-outs from the Blues to keep them pinned in their own territory, whilst not having to re-start from under their own posts at all.
Consecutive sets are like gold and over the course of the 80 minutes Queensland enjoyed 12 to NSW's four.
There has been plenty of talk that the Blues will look to attack the right-side defence of the Maroons, and based on what we saw in game one there is good cause to pursue that course of action.
In the opening 20 minutes their two line breaks were on that side of the field.
The first resulted in an excellent cover defending tackle from Dane Nielsen on a flying Michael Jennings to take him into touch and the second was thwarted by a forward pass just as Josh Dugan was starting to look dangerous.
Queensland winger Yow Yeh does tend to drop back way too deep on occasions and if NSW are smart with the ball they can take advantage.
It should be pointed out however that despite the Blues' two tries coming through their left-side attack, they were not the result of any poor defence on the young wingers' part.
Greg Bird was able to beat Petero Civinoceva with some deft footwork to set up Mitchell Pearce and an effective decoy run from Ben Creagh attracted the attention of Darren Lockyer to create an overlap for Jennings to score their second.
This of course put the Blues in front going into the final 10 minutes but, as was the case in game three last year, they were unable to maintain that lead to the finish line.
Like the opening period of their matches, the final 10 minutes have also constantly let them down.
Of the 16 matches that have constituted their series-winning golden run, Queensland have scored the last try in 11 of those games. In Origin there is every chance that scoring the final points will win you the match.
Again if we have a look at the key sets in that period we get an insight into this success rate.
When NSW hit the lead they used three plays to take the ball forward from the re-start. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be any set plan as to where to take the ball.
From a poor position on the right side of the field and still in his own half Michael Ennis kicked dustily from dummy-half straight to Billy Slater who brought the ball back to his 30-metre line.
In retrospect it would have been much more advantageous for the Blues to have used up all their tackles in working the ball to the middle of the field and have Jamie Soward kick low and deep into a corner, forcing the Maroons to work it back from their own try-line.
Instead Slater's return was followed by a Yow Yeh offload to Sam Thaiday and then a Corey Parker offload to Dane Nielsen. These two tackles picked up 40 metres.
The big blow was then landed by Matt Scott who powered through the front line for a quick play-the-ball.
In three plays the ball had been advanced 55 metres and from this position the combination of Thurston, Lockyer and Slater did the rest.
Overall Queensland were better than NSW in the all important 'four P's':
Possession – the Maroons ultimately won the battle 58% to 42% with completion rates of 31 from 38 compared to 20 from 32.
Position – NSW forced to play 62% of the game in their own half.
Pressure – Back-to-back sets 12-4 in favour of Queensland and six line drop-outs to nil says it all.
Patience – the Maroons never panicked when they went behind and came up with the correct set in reply. The inside ball for the final try was the fourth such thrown to Slater during the contest and the only time it was not adequately covered by the NSW defence.
These are the areas that the Blues must reverse to win game two.