Former New South Wales halfbacks Brett Kimmorley and Jason Taylor have put the onus on current Blues halves Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney to learn from their Game One mistakes when they run onto ANZ Stadium tonight, pointing to a poor kicking game and a failure to play straight enough as key reasons behind the side’s 18-10 loss three weeks ago.
Impressed by the ability of the Blues forwards to dominate their Queensland counterparts in the series opener, Kimmorley said it was the tactics employed by Pearce and Carney that hampered the NSW attack as they struggled to turn an early glut of possession into points.
“They certainly got a lot of momentum against Queensland in Game One,” Kimmorley told NRL.com when asked what NSW needed to change if they are to level the series tonight.
“Their forwards were great and Jarryd Hayne, Michael Jennings and Josh Morris created some spark with their ability to beat the defender one on one and get a quick play-the-ball.
“But if they want to take advantage of that momentum they need to play a bit flatter and a bit more over the advantage line. It seemed we were quite happy to use the ball laterally instead of going forward.”
Kimmorley’s comments are backed up by detailed statistics from Game One that show just how dominant the Blues were up front. NSW ran for a whopping 1574 metres to Queensland’s 1253 in the series opener and averaged 8.1 metres per hit-up to the Maroons’ 7.3 yet could only manage two tries – both from kicks.
Kimmorley said that the Blues had been far too eager to shift the ball in Game One while failing to ask enough questions of the Queensland defence.
“I don’t think you can go around them with that long, lateral shift that we tried in Game One because they’re just happy to slide. They’ve just got to keep knocking on the door and trying to get quick play-the-balls because the more play-the-balls you have, the more push and support you have.
“The other problem was that with Todd Carney and Glenn Stewart playing on the same edge, they’re both ball-players and no-one was going to penetrate the line with decoy runners (Queensland ran 21 decoys to the Blues’ 16 in Game I). It was more looking for someone to do it on their own.
“When Queensland got a quick play-the-ball and Cameron Smith jumped out of dummy-half there were three or four guys piling into holes. Even when Thurston was going lateral and trying to find players he had four or five runners into holes, whereas we were more catch-pass and head towards the sideline.”
NSW must also address their kicking game if they are to cause the Maroons headaches tonight. Of the Blues’ nine long kicks three weeks ago, only two found open ground at a dismal 22.2 per cent accuracy rate.
Queensland, on the other hand, found open space more than 50 per cent of the time and worked over the NSW back three thanks to the accurate work of Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston.
Taylor said the Blues must be smarter about their kicking game if they hope to prevail tonight.
“The stats back it up… I thought although NSW were dominant, Queensland’s kicking game was better,” he said. “That’s crucial for them [tonight]. The thing is, NSW got their two tries from kicks – but they were probably in a position to apply a lot more pressure than they did with kicks as well.
“Queensland thought about their kicks a lot more.”
“I thought they out-kicked us – their kicks were bouncing into the corners, which made our guys constantly turn around,” he observed. “Their tactical kicks were put in position rather than just kicking high and hoping and I felt Billy Slater caught most of our kicks on the full and came flying back at us, which was a real positive for them.”
While Taylor remains confident that the NSW forwards can again dominate, he admits to some nerves when it comes to the combination between the Blues’ spine – Pearce, Carney, Brett Stewart and Robbie Farah.
“The first thing they need to do is play as well as they did last game but they need to add some tryscoring to that. That’s the biggest thing for them,” he suggested. “If they had capitalised on the dominance they had [in Game One] by scoring a couple of more tries, they win the game.
“So they will definitely play the same style. They might be a bit wary with some of their passing because of the conditions, but they’ve got to do it. They can’t just not pass the football and get into some bash-and-barge game.
“The worry is the combination of the four key players, I just didn’t think they got that right and the hard thing was that that was the first game those four had played together.
“I reckon they’ll be better for the run this time around but the problem is they’ve only got one game to do it. If they don’t win this one it’s all over for another year.”
Kimmorley said he hoped to see a lot more from the Manly combination of Stewart and Anthony Watmough tonight – two players he believes can play a key role in reversing the result.
“That’s one of Brett Stewart’s strengths, his ability to push through the ruck – but there weren’t too many times where we saw the line challenged through the middle in Game One,” Kimmorley said. “At Manly, they play nice and straight and have Brett Stewart waiting for that slow defender back, or a quick play-the-ball to jump on. That’s probably why Anthony Watmough has been brought back into the team.”