Sterling: What NSW needs to change in Origin II
Barring any further injuries, Ricky Stuart will have little trouble naming his squad for Origin II come Sunday night.
The Blues had Queensland in enough trouble over the opening 80 minutes of the series to justify the vast majority of players again taking their place in the team, and the coach will be hoping that the weekend is kind in allowing all to get through unscathed.
Obviously a decision will need to be made as to who will come in for the injured Tony Williams and, based on what occurred in Melbourne, whether Jamie Buhrer is the way to go again off the bench.
After being overlooked, Manly's Anthony Watmough must surely be at the top of the list as a possible replacement.
I would like to think that his declining to be used as 18th man for Origin I would not count against him. In fact his decision to play for the Sea Eagles and produce a man-of-the-match performance against the Roosters was a strong statement against his disappointment.
The obvious concern is the shoulder complaint that saw him leave the field against Penrith, but if he can come up with another strong showing on Friday night and be uninhibited in all he does then I would be bringing him into the squad.
His cause is certainly helped by the Game One performance of Greg Bird, who troubled the Maroons with his footwork at the defensive line.
Watmough plays a similarly explosive type of game and also has the ability to worry defenders with his quick feet.
When it comes to young Buhrer, it may be tough to not give him a second run after contributing just seven minutes on debut but it is that very statistic which makes it difficult to again go his way.
My question is, if Game One wasn't an occasion to give him more game time – with the side forced to cover the loss of Michael Jennings for 10 minutes – then what situation would see him in the contest for a longer period?
Especially when Robbie Farah has shown himself to be unquestionably an 80 minute performer.
When the game was in the balance Ricky couldn't get the Wests skipper back into the action quickly enough, which leads me to the belief that there was no reason to take him off in the first place. Farah did get a knock during the course of the contest and may have needed a little time to clear his head but it did seem somewhat of a waste of an interchange.
There is the temptation to cover the potential loss of your dummy half through injury but there is enough versatility in the NSW side to make the necessary adjustment should that situation occur.
With Cooper Cronk now in the run-on side Queensland don't cover Cameron Smith and while we shouldn't necessarily follow their lead, I think it is worth the risk.
This leaves one further opening, and the very fact that Aaron Woods was called in as a "shadow" player for the opening encounter indicates he may be the man for the job.
It is important not to rush talented young players into this level of competition, especially in the position that Woods plays; NSW has made this mistake too often in the past.
However all that I have seen from this 21-year-old prop indicates that he has the required maturity and temperament needed to step up into Origin, and in front of a vocal and effervescent home crowd might just be the ideal place to introduce him.
This would give the Blues two relatively rookie front-rowers on the bench but Trent Merrin has already benefitted from last year's involvement and the pair's injection would ensure energetic go-forward with the added danger of both being excellent offloaders of the football.
Again, the Blues' second-phase play is something that looked to cause Queensland some problems at Etihad.
This would also allow Ben Creagh to play wider on the left fringe where he is much more formidable and at home.
Creagh was disappointing first up but I don't think he is overly suited to playing too long in the middle and his running game is much more powerful if he can get one-on-one or between defenders on the edge.
I would definitely be sticking with Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce in the halves and am certain that their first outing together will only lead to better things.
I felt the sin-binning of Jennings disrupted their flow more than anyone and in the opening 20 minutes they had gone a long way to establishing an understanding of who should be getting the ball and at what time.
There were some uncharacteristic mistakes from the pair and they should possibly have taken more control in the second-half, but I was more encouraged than disappointed by their partnership.
There have been few Origin matches which have resulted in so much discussion, controversy, criticism and angst than the opener to the year's series.
I don't think there is any doubt that NSW can feel aggrieved by some decisions but the harsh reality is that the best sides still find a way to win.
You have 80 minutes to win and lose an Origin contest and each one of those is as important as the rest.
The one thing that is a definite is that during the course of proceedings you must be able to overcome disappointment, and I don't think the Blues did that well enough in Melbourne.
While a penalty may seem harsh that doesn't excuse poor defence on the back of it and such moments go a long way to establishing success or failure.
The reason Queensland have enjoyed so much recent success is that they have handled these situations better and have found a way, under whatever circumstances, to be in front at the final whistle.
NSW need to discover the same capacity if they are to avoid another series loss.
My NSW team for State of Origin II
1. Brett Stewart
2. Jarryd Hayne
3. Michael Jennings
4. Josh Morris
5. Akulia Uate
6. Todd Carney
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Paul Gallen
9. Robbie Farah
10. Jame Tamou
11. Glenn Stewart
12. Luke Lewis
13. Greg Bird
14. Trent Merrin
15. Aaron Woods
16. Ben Creagh
17. Anthony Watmough
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