It will be interesting to see how the players and referees handle the new laws banning fighting when Queensland and NSW run out for the second State of Origin game.
Personally, I would be very surprised if any players allow themselves to fall into the trap. No doubt Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley will have spoken to their charges about the rule being in affect now.
If a situation was to escalate and someone was put in the sin bin, it could be very costly for the team so the focus now will have to be turning that aggression to the defensive effort and putting on a big hit. Maybe that’s the way to handle it.
I’d be shocked if any players would want to challenge the referees’ mettle because there is so much at stake. The coaches would be into the players not to get involved if a potential situation arises.
I said a few weeks back that it is time the game took a stand if we want to clean up our image and appeal to a wider audience; we’ve already seen the consequences of breaking the new fighting rules, with two players sent off and two more sin-binned after an all-in brawl in the under-20s game between Wests Tigers and Canberra last weekend. Those players have since been suspended for a total of nine weeks between them.
Given that result, I’m pretty sure the Origin referees will stand by that rule too, if need be. If players get involved they have to know they run the risk of spending some time on the sideline – and that could end up costing them a State of Origin series.
But the new rules aside I’ll be very interested to see how Queensland responds to their loss in Game One. I must admit I was a bit surprised to see the Maroons make a couple of unforced changes with Josh Papalii and Daly Cherry-Evans replacing David Shillington and Ashley Harrison. Queensland have always had the philosophy of staying loyal to team selections but maybe they feel there is a changing of the guard taking place. They perhaps felt they needed to bring the next generation into the side at the expense of Dave and Ashley.
It could also be a response to the NSW game plan from Game One where the Blues played really fast around the ruck. They probably caught Queensland off-guard in Game One and Mal would want to add a bit of speed and explosiveness to his pack. Personally I thought if they were going to replace anyone they would have made room for Ben Hannant but the NSW tactics have backed the Queensland selectors into a corner and they felt the need to go for more mobility.
One focus for the Maroons must be getting the ball to Greg Inglis, who was very quiet in the opener. Full credit to NSW – their defensive line really stifled Queensland but the halves will be looking to give GI more opportunities with the ball in hand. Whether that means going wide earlier in the tackle count, or trying to play him back through the ruck, time will tell. That’s another option we’ve seen from South Sydney, trying to catch out tired defenders this year to great effect.
But NSW will take a fair bit of confidence coming up to Brisbane knowing this is their opportunity to wrap up the series and create their own bit of history by breaking this run of wins Queensland have had over the past seven years. That’s a carrot for the team. They’ve got nothing to lose. They have one 80-minute performance to show the same amount of pride and passion they displayed down in Sydney.
It hasn’t been the ideal preparation for the Blues with James Tamou and Blake Ferguson both stood down but I don’t think that will impact them because it all happened either before or right at the start of the camp. Nathan Merritt came into the side straight away and I don’t think that will have burdened the team. Timing-wise, they’ve been a bit lucky. They would have put that to bed and focussed on their preparation from Day 1. It’s the same with the Tamou incident which happened before the camp even started. Timing-wise it was probably ideal the way it all unfolded.
Of course, as a proud Queenslander I’m still leaning towards a Maroons win and who knows? It could even be a blow-out!
If you pressed me I would say I’m leaning towards a close game but that Suncorp Stadium crowd, when the Queensland side start to build some momentum, they really make a difference.
Having been a part of it for so many years, I’ve seen the side lift a few notches when that crowd really get behind them. So the potential is there for that to happen again but seeing how NSW played in Game One and the fact that they will adopt a similar style, I can see it being another Origin thriller.