Blues pack to keep Maroons guessing again
One of the overlooked factors in NSW's forward dominance in Origin I was just how effectively the front and back-rowers were rotated by coach Laurie Daley, with roles shifting on the run to keep Queensland guessing – even to the point the players insist they didn't know what the plan was ahead of time and just adapted on the fly.
There is no natural lock forward in the 17 with the possible exception of bench-man Jake Trbojevic who was used in the front-row rotation; Dragon Tyson Frizell will again wear the No.13 jersey but his best spot is right-edge back row and in Origin I he split the role with Bulldogs right edge forward Josh Jackson.
Skipper Boyd Cordner – who plays as a left edge back-rower for both the Roosters and Blues – also rotated through the middle as Daley's fluid rotation refused to allow the Maroons defence to settle.
Cronulla's Wade Graham – like Cordner a left-edge specialist – was injected half an hour into Game One when he slotted in on the left and made an immediate impact with his passing game while Cordner shifted across to the right.
Heading into Game Two, the Blues forwards say they still don't have forewarning of how they will be used, only that they have prepared to play in multiple positions to ensure all bases are covered on the night.
"We all do a bit during the week at training – we all roll around so I do a bit in the middle, I do a bit on the left, I do a bit on the right," Graham said.
"We all sort of roll in and that's definitely a strength of ours, the versatility. I think the difference in the types of players we are, we're all a bit different in the way we play.
"Hopefully we got the formula right in Game One. It's not always going to be perfect so hopefully we can get it right again in Game Two."
Things will certainly change if there is an injury that needs to be covered, which was fortunately not an issue for NSW in Game One (each team lost a half to concussion with half an hour to play in Game One but both Mitch Pearce and Anthony Milford were directly replaced by their respective bench utilities).
That variety in the Blues pack can generate unpredictability; Graham has the passing skills of a five-eighth which he used to set up Pearce's game-breaking try on half-time. Jackson and Cordner each have a damaging late offload while Cordner and Frizell each run brilliant angles on an edge in isolating opposition halves. All four can defend in the middle or an edge if needed.
"You can't defend all four of us the same way, it's just the different players we are," Graham added.
"Speaking to 'Sterlo' (NSW selection consultant Peter Sterling) and 'Loz' (Daley) through the first game's preparation, it was about showing all our qualities and playing our best footy and that versatility really helped us."
Even in the props there is variety; Fifita's bumping runs and freehwheeling offloads caused mayhem in Game One and it took the focus somewhat away from the huge contributions of his fellow bookends. Aaron Woods was buffeted early by some stinging defence but absorbed everything to continue to generate second-phase play while David Klemmer's injection off the bench saw him called on for comparatively few tackles but he racked up close to 200 metres with his kamikaze carries.
A big part of the reason Frizell job-shared the right edge and lock roles with Jackson was to try and get his more damaging runs aimed at half Anthony Milford. This will again be the plan in Game Two with Johnathan Thurston replacing Milford in the Queensland side but Frizell said he needs to be ready for anything.
"We leave it in Laurie's hands," Frizell said.
"The way it worked out in Game One with Fifita coming off [for an early head injury assessment before returning later in the first half], they had to get him back on at a certain time I had to come off.
"I always knew I was going to play an edge-middle role and Jacko there can do the same too. There's nothing fixed.
"Coming into Game Two it's just the way things happen and you've just got to go on the run.
"You don't really know what's going to happen in a game, you have to swap and change your team on the run and that's what Laurie did.
"That's pretty much the same thing coming into Game Two, just be ready when to go. I might find myself in the middle, I might not, I might find myself on an edge, I might start in the middle. I don't really know yet."