Fast and furious. That’s the key for New South Wales in tonight’s series decider at Suncorp Stadium, with former Blues Ryan Girdler and Craig Fitzgibbon pointing to an up-tempo game as the best way for Ricky Stuart’s men to end Queensland’s six year State of Origin dominance.
Stats obtained by NRL.com from games one and two this year show that the Blues’ quick play-the-balls have caused major headaches for Queensland – particularly in Sydney where NSW dominated their opponents in the tackle.
In total NSW achieved 22 fast play-the-balls in game two – 15.5% of all of their play-the-balls – compared with just 9.8% by the Maroons. Likewise, Queensland could only force the Blues into 9.9% slow play-the-balls while 11.7% of their own were deemed slow.
NSW also managed 27 fast play-the-balls (18.5%) in game one to Queensland’s 17 (12.1%) although the Maroons clawed some back by forcing the Blues into 28 slow play-the-balls at 19.2% (Queensland had only 14 slow play-the-balls at 9.9%).
Former NSW centre Girdler said it was critical for the Blues to replicate their dominance in the tackle at Suncorp Stadium tonight if they are to come away with a series-clinching win.
“I think the high-speed game has really helped us,” he said. “We’ve got a more-mobile pack, a younger pack and we’ve been running them off their legs.
“A lot of the work from our back-rowers has been fantastic and then having a guy like Luke Lewis coming off the bench brings so much energy when he comes on at that crucial stage. He and Anthony Watmough are such similar players and are just so dangerous when they come on. I think that’s what got NSW home in game two – that energy at the back end of each half was priceless.”
Fitzgibbon, who like Girdler was a member of the dominant NSW side of the early 2000s, said there was no reason the Blues should alter their game plan for the decider.
“I think they’ve made their blueprint public with their fast-moving forwards pouring through the middle,” Fitzgibbon said. “They did it for a period in the first game and it worked really well for them, even though they didn’t win, and they did it even better in the second game.
“That’s the strength of the Blues. They’ve even come out and stated that and have still managed to do it, so for that to actually happen is great for their confidence.
“You’ve still got to respect who they’re playing against but they’ve stated their intentions and they would be silly to stray away from that.”
NSW will look to their mobile back-rowers to dominate in the play-the ball, with Greg Bird having produced eight fast play-the-balls at 33% across the first two games, while bench forwards Luke Lewis (30%) and Anthony Watmough (28.6%) were particularly effective in game two.
However, the Blues must address their kicking game if they are to build on that ruck pressure after struggling to avoid the clutches of Billy Slater so far in during the series. Despite Slater’s absence tonight, Girdler said it was crucial that halves Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney find more open pasture, with NSW having kicked straight to Queensland’s back three on 21 occasions while finding the grass just five times (a dismal 19.2% accuracy).
By comparison, the Maroons have avoided Brett Stewart and co. 57.7% of the time (15 of 26 kicks).
“Billy is a great fullback and there is no doubt Queensland will miss him but we need to find a little bit more space,” Girdler said. “We kicked to him a bit too much last time and we need to kick to someone else, or find the grass a bit more.”
Girdler also pointed to the absence of Glenn Stewart, one of the Blues’ most dominant members in the play-the-ball, as a huge blow to their chances.
“Unfortunately we’ve lost one of the form back-rowers in the game,” he added. “I think the Stewart brothers have been instrumental in the resurgence of NSW this year. They’re just winners.
“You see what they bring to Manly and it was such a smart play getting them both involved. The camp and the attitude of the guys… I think the Stewart brothers have really added to that, so I think Glenn is a massive loss.
“People ask me how we’re going to replace him for game three and we can’t – there is no-one around that does what he does. His defence, his aggression, his speed off the line and then what he does with the ball. There are no back-rowers around like him.
“Yes, Queensland will miss Billy Slater, but Glenn Stewart is just as big a loss for us.
“Having said that, I think they’ve been the better side of the series so far and are really unfortunate not to have wrapped it up. NSW has just got to keep doing what they’ve been doing and they’ll be in with a fantastic chance.”
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