Sterling: How I rated the Blues in Origin II
Now that was an Origin.
An absolutely brutal 80 minutes with the trend set by the very first collision, with the ball-carrying Tim Grant putting Petero Civinoceva unceremoniously onto his backside.
There's no doubt that NSW were the better side for the vast majority of the contest but with result in the balance until the final whistle it was a clear indication that Queensland never stop coming at you.
The most impressive aspect of the Blues' display was their aggression and it has been very rare that the Maroons have been bustled into so many uncharacteristic errors.
This was particularly evident in the lack of polish in much of their kicking game, which in the conditions and in a tight battle must have been a concern for Mal Meninga.
Ironically the Blues will get plenty of satisfaction that the only tries they conceded came from kicks.
It has set up a cracking finale at Suncorp Stadium and with a decider coinciding with the great Petero Civinoceva's State of Origin swansong it will be a clash for the ages.
Without a second viewing these were my immediate thoughts at full-time concerning the NSW individual performances.
1. B. STEWART – 8 After an early fumble which he was able to fortuitously clean up the Blues custodian grew in stature to have a wonderful game, highlighted by his two-try effort. That early error could have knocked around his confidence but from that moment he was faultless on what was a difficult night for the back three. His tries were very different in nature but just another indication that some players have an amazing knack to get the ball over the line.
2. J. HAYNE – 7 Didn't enjoy the same amount of success down the left side as he did in Melbourne but was still a constant threat with his strong running. Played a leading role in the Josh Morris try and whether he meant to kick the ball or not after it was dislodged is of little consequence. He's the freakish kind of player to come up with such a play.
3. M. JENNINGS – 6.5 Like Hayne, Jennings wasn't afforded the space that he was in game one and he was rarely able to threaten. Still he did come up with what proved to be the most crucial play of the night when he dislodged the ball as Brent Tate was about to score and lock things up at 16–all, when a conversion would have put Queensland in front late in the game.
4. J. MORRIS – 8 Something of an unsung hero whose defensive effort had a profound effect on the team's performance. Any difficulties that the NSW right-side defence suffered in the opening encounter was rectified and done so as a result of Morris's excellent decision making. Early in the match he was able to "protect" his winger Akuila Uate by coming up and in at the opportune moment. The fact that Greg Inglis had a quiet night with ball in hand speaks volumes.
5. A. UATE – 6 An unusual lack of involvement from the flying Fijian who ran the ball strongly but not particularly often. Seemed a touch hesitant at times, none more so than allowing the ball to bounce for the Ben Hannant try on the stroke of half-time. Despite Brett Stewart being in the vicinity it was clearly his catch.
6. T. CARNEY – 7.5 Looked much more comfortable in his second outing and you know he is feeling confident by the number of times he is prepared to run the football. Showed great footwork and strength in beating Ashley Harrison to set up Stewart's second four-pointer. His kicking game still left something to be desired with the Maroons already forcing nine line drop-outs in the series to the Blues' zero. I said after game one that I was more encouraged than disappointed with his debut effort and he definitely improved on that.
7. M. PEARCE – 7 Something of a mixed performance which again was full of effort. Still struggling to really take control of proceedings when the opportunity exists but there are signs that he is gradually coming to grips with such situations. When the forwards were getting tired late in the contest and were under pressure that's the time that Mitchell needs to step up and physically and verbally guide the team home.
8. T. GRANT – 7 His opening 18 minutes of his Origin career were highly impressive and exactly what his coach was looking for in establishing the team's mentality. He was tough, energetic and aggressive, and his teammates were ready to feed off that. Coach Stuart used him very judiciously with not a lot of game time but enough to make him hungry for more.
9. R. FARAH – 8.5 The best player on the field who somehow managed to rack up 63 tackles but was still able to be a constant menace with his incisive running out of dummy-half. Has said that when he first came into Origin he was just happy to be there but now after leading the Tigers and City in recent years he feels much more like a leader. That assessment is spot on and has elevated him to a new level in the game.
10. J. TAMOU – 7 The development of this young front-rower has been nothing short of remarkable and whilst he wasn't able to dent the Maroons the way he did on debut he was still a real handful in the opening salvos. Even with defenders hanging off him he still manages to pick up extra metres and by attracting so many into the tackle it proves highly advantageous to the player taking the next hit up.
11. G. STEWART – 6.5 Was again well contained on the right edge and played just 58 minutes compared to the full 80 in Melbourne. Despite this I still see him as a potential match-winner in Brisbane. I think the opposition also rate him that highly and they have been intent on giving him as little time and space as possible.
12. G. BIRD – 8 Another typical robust performance with the added attraction of a skill level and off-loading ability that makes him an absolute handful to contain. Almost paid the penalty for a couple of loose carries in the opening quarter of the game but cleaned that up to make sure there were no cheap handovers. Outside of the captain and the hooker he was the forward given the most time on the paddock.
13. P. GALLEN – 8 His troublesome knee robbed him of again going the distance but it was another workaholic performance for the team. True leaders want the football when those around him are struggling and in those moments last night the skipper continually put his hand up to take the fight back to Queensland. Looks in need of a rest but I don't see him jeopardising Cronulla's chances by taking one.
14. T. MERRIN – 6 Was kept as a fresh player until well into the contest and on the back of limited game time made minimal impact.
15. L. LEWIS – 8 Quite magnificent off the bench and was close to the Blues' best with his high intensity impact when unleashed. So many of the big defensive plays in the second half saw the number 15 jersey emerge which lifted the team at key moments. I think he is a starting player in any team but last night he provided the perfect influence that you are hoping an interchange can provide.
16. B. CREAGH – 6 Was able to play a little bit wider with the addition of another specialist front-rower, but was still rarely used in minutes and in actual general play. Not sure if that is by design or whether he is struggling to find involvement.
17. A. WATMOUGH – 6.5 Another who played less than half an hour but it was noticeable that late in the game his experience was called upon.