Monday Morning Halfback - Round 2
State of Origin is an all encompassing monster. It has become such a phenomenon that it is a world unto itself. This presents rugby league players, administrators and fans with an interesting predicament. State of Origin is a vehicle to the masses; it is rugby league's crowning jewel, the biggest stage with the biggest audience. It is the platform on which rugby league can grow to new markets, attract new fans and increase revenue.
Forget your billboards, rock bands and television spots, State of Origin is the biggest advertisement the game has to sell itself.
However, it has become so big that it can distract from the NRL Telstra Premiership. The first article about Origin selection battles was posted well before a ball was kicked in anger this season. Players are already being talked about for Origin positions and the juggernaut rolls on.
Already South Sydney's Adam Reynolds is being pushed to play in the halves, Rooster Mitchell Pearce is 'putting his hand up', Panthers fullback Matt Moylan is ready to go, and a host of other players - either incumbents or new 'contenders' - are being promoted as Origin bolters.
We have only had two rounds of the Telstra Premiership. You can't win a premiership in March and likewise, surely it is a little premature to be talking about Origin and who should or shouldn't be there?
State of Origin needs to be a showcase for the game and it's great that it generates so much publicity and attention but is it a good thing for the game that the focus is already starting to shift towards a different competition?
Origin is one of the main pillars for the game to grow, but we also need to make sure the NRL Telstra Premiership grows with it.
Origin is a Daley thought process
Two people who don't think it's too early to be talking about Origin are Blues coach Laurie Daley and Bulldogs coach Des Hasler, who each had a bit to say about the Blues fullback options in the post-Jarryd Hayne era.
A potential crisis is quickly turning into an embarrassment of riches for Daley; even with the man seeming most likely to slot into the role – Dragons custodian Josh Dugan – under an injury cloud, there are a host of enticing options.
Veteran Manly fullback Brett Stewart was in scintillating form against the Storm in Round 2 on the back of a vintage 2014 campaign. Proven Origin players, Parramatta's Will Hopoate and Bulldog Brett Morris, have both made strong starts to the year in their new roles at the back. Morris in particular is guaranteed a spot in Daley's 17 and it is only the form and balance of other players that will dictate whether he takes his customary role on the flank or moves to the back.
Meanwhile future Origin star, Penrith's Matt Moylan, has had a blinding start to the year, dismantling the Titans at Bathurst. His impressive debut in the senior representative scene with City Origin and then the PM's XIII last year suggests he will handle the step up in class.
Panthers Cleary an Origin option
STILL on Origin, Penrith coach Ivan Cleary conceded that he might have to deal with missing some key players during the Origin period. But his focus - not so surprisingly - is on his side's round three showdown with the Roosters.
"Sounds like everyone now thinks we've got some players who can play," smirked Cleary after his side's big win over the Titans.
"If that comes, that's a good problem because it means the boys are playing well for the Panthers and that's what we want them to do. But we've only played two games. It's a long, long way to go.
"We've got a huge game next week against the Roosters. We'll look at that for the moment."
How good is a set play
We saw some training ground moves pay dividends this weekend and they were a lot of fun to watch. The Panthers and Knights put on tries straight from the practice paddock.
The Panthers executed a slick four-player combination described by Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss as "exceptional, supreme rugby league, worth the price of admission by itself," and it is hard to argue with that assessment. Jamie Soward went to the line and threw a cut-out pass to Jamal Idris who immediately turned inside to link up with Matt Moylan on an inside-out line. The Panthers fullback drew a defender and passed to George Jennings at pace down the left side to score untouched. It was simply sublime.
The Knights pulled one over the Cowboys, rolling the dice by kicking from a scrum inside their own 30-metre line. Realising there was no fullback in play, Jarrod Mullen kicked from the back of the scrum for Akuila Uate who had too much pace for Johnathan Thurston in a one-on-one foot race. While the Cowboys scrambled to save that play, they were shot defensively and conceded a try off the next ruck. It changed the momentum of the game and got the Knights back into the contest.
Cowboys continue to be an enigma
For so many years the North Queensland Cowboys have confounded fans, coaches and critics alike. Despite constantly being mentioned as a premiership force, the Cowboys have failed to win more than 50 per cent of their games by the midpoint of the season since 2011.
Disappointingly, they are off to another slow start even with back-to-back home games to start the season. Gavin Cooper told NRL.com before Round 1 that there would be no excuses for a slow start.
"Last year people gave us a couple of excuses and we could have ran with a couple of them – just having a disrupted pre-season with the boys at World Cup and bringing in a new coach – but there are no excuses now, so if we don't start well, we have no one to blame bar ourselves," Cooper said.
"From an outsider looking in, people do like the way our team looks on paper but it doesn't mean too much on paper, so hopefully we get off to a good start which is something we haven't been able to do as a club for a long while."
The Cowboys have managed just three tries from 85 sets of six in their first two games of the Telstra Premiership season.