Is the Maroons dynasty over?
There’s just something about State of Origin and over the last decade there has certainly been something about the Queensland Maroons.
Led by players like Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Sam Thaiday and Johnathan Thurston, the Maroons have won 10 out of the last 11 series and have been close to unstoppable.
Blues fans have copped plenty of grief over the last decade, but I have taken some comfort in knowing that I have had the opportunity to watch some of the greatest players of all time in one team. I question whether we will ever see State of Origin dominance like this ever again.
But this dominance was never going to last forever and after Wednesday night’s performance which saw the New South Wales Blues record a 28-4 win at Suncorp Stadium in front of 50,309 people - I’m calling it - the Queensland Maroons' dynasty is over.
Let’s start with the stand-outs for New South Wales.
There were several players that could have been named Man of the Match on Wednesday, but for me, Andrew Fifita was by far the most influential player on the field with 183 metres from 18 runs and 11 tackle busts.
It was his runs up the field that help set up the James Maloney try in the seventh minute and the bottom line is, Queensland were simply unable to stop him. This is a man that has been cast as one of rugby league’s greatest villains, but last night he became a hero once again (for Blues fans at least).
He was superbly supported by Boyd Cordner and Tyson Frizell (particularly in defence with over 60 tackles between them) and Aaron Woods never stopped trying.
Let’s also talk about James Tedesco, a player that has been criticised for his form at club level this year. However, he was unflappable under the high-ball (no matter how many times Cooper Cronk tested him) and he made 192 metres and had two line breaks. He also made two try-saving tackles in one set of six and was rewarded with a try as well.
There were plenty of other players I could mention. Players like Jarryd Hayne, Blake Ferguson, David Klemmer and Mitchell Pearce who, for the first time, truly looked like a State of Origin halfback. He has truly earned his place as the New South Wales No.7 and I look forward to seeing him fully fit for Game Two.
The thing about this New South Wales team is that they are, on average, two years younger than their Queensland counterparts and it absolutely showed. None of the Blues players are over 30, while the Maroons have five players over that age. While Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk are still in excellent form, can the same be said for Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles and Jacob Lillyman? Only one New South Wales player has played more than 20 Origin matches and that’s Jarryd Hayne. The next capped player is Mitchell Pearce with 15 games. Last night, youth certainly trumped experience.
It’s not that Queensland were bad. It’s just that New South Wales were better.
Queensland simply could not keep up with the frenetic pace of the game. At this point it’s important to credit Nathan Peats whose job last night was to provide quick service out of dummy-half. He did this and covered 8.1 kilometres during the game which is the most ever recorded during a State of Origin game.
For the past decade, Queensland have taken great pride in being able to control the tempo of the game. Last night, they could not keep up, particularly considering that the ball was almost in play for the entirety of the first 40 minutes. It took 20 minutes for the first ball to be kicked into touch and I remember noticing the Maroons gasping for air at this point.
Do not underestimate the magnitude of this win. The Blues outscored the Maroons five tries to one and is Queensland’s biggest loss since Game III, 2005.
Despite, what I think is the crumbling of the dynasty, I am expecting a very different Queensland team to turn up to ANZ Stadium on June 21.
Johnathan Thurston should be fully fit by Origin II. But then Kevin Walters potentially has a couple of very difficult decisions to make.
During the week, plenty of jokes were made that Queensland had a side ‘so good’ that they didn’t need to pick Billy Slater. I’m sure plenty of Queensland fans wished that Billy had been on that field last night and for the first time in my adult life I’m thinking that Bob Katter was right when he questioned his omission.
It’s also time for Kevin to say thank you and good bye to some players that have been loyal servants for Queensland but are no longer up to State of Origin standard. Players like Coen Hess and Jarrod Wallace should be given an opportunity in Game Two, because these are men that are the future of Queensland – not Nate Myles and Jacob Lillyman.
It has been an absolute privilege to watch one of the greatest Queensland side's of all time. But the time has come for the next generation of players to have their opportunity.
For New South Wales fans, you should be tremendously excited. Last night we saw the nucleus of the Blues squad that will represent our state for the next couple of years and I certainly liked what I saw.
But before I get too ahead of myself, I’m just going to enjoy being back in the winner’s circle – history suggests that the trophy is coming home this year.