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Crackdown fears much ado about nothing as ref allows open contest

Forget about the refereeing crackdown, the only thing that could diminish State of Origin's appeal would be NSW dominating like they did in the series opener on an ongoing basis.

And anyone who fears that happening hasn’t followed the history of the interstate battle between the Blues and Maroons since the Origin concept began in 1980.

Last year’s Queensland team were mocked as the worst Maroons outfit ever – until they triumphed 2-1 over NSW.

Now this year’s Blues team is being hailed as one of the best ever after romping to a 50-6 win in Townsville, but NSW coach Brad Fittler knows the job is only half done and Queensland are likely to bounce back in Origin II at Suncorp Stadium on June 27.

The only guarantee in Origin is the football will be fast and furious, and fears the NRL’s crackdown on foul play could ruin the game’s showpiece were always likely to be unfounded.

Maroons v Blues

There was plenty of aggression and blood spilled but high tackles were kept to a minimum and referee Gerard Sutton never seriously needed to consider using the sin bin as the game flowed from end to end.

"I thought the ref did a really good job," Fittler said. "He was under a lot of pressure from the point of view of everything that everyone has been talking about, so you have got to applaud that.

"I thought both teams did a really good job of not putting that much pressure on him."

Let him play: Turbo's decision-making key to dominance

Adopting the selection philosophies of Jack Gibson and Wayne Bennett, Fittler picked the best available players and then found a position for them.

The Blues had three fullbacks – James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell - and three locks – Isaah Yeo, Cameron Murray and Jake Trbojevic - in their starting line-up and all had a massive influence on the outcome.

Tom Trbojevic and Mitchell were named as centres but effectively given a licence to roam, and the Maroons found them – as well as Tedesco, the NSW captain and the game’s leading No.1 – too hard to handle.

Trbojevic and Mitchell popped up besides one another on occasions like an old fashioned centre pairing and they each laid on a try for the other, while Penrith winger Brian To’o scored two tries in his Origin debut

Tedesco (212m), To’o (220m) and Trbojevic (204m) - who scored three tries and won man-of-the-match honours - all ran the ball for more than 200 metres, while Maroons fullback Valentine Holmes (126m) carried the ball the furthest for his team.

"They are good stats," Fittler said. "Obviously we broke down their middle a lot because their middle had to contain Teddy, all our forwards, plus Tommy and Latrell, so they did a really good job.

Turbo Tom at it again as he kicks for Mitchell

"I think every year since I have been coach [since 2018] we have won a game convincing but last year we lost the other two so we have got to make sure that’s not the case this year.

"We haven’t won a game at Suncorp for the last three years so it is a huge goal for us and it is going to be a much bigger challenge than tonight was."

As for the Maroons, it’s clear Paul Green needs to make changes after failing to get the balance of his team quite right in the series opener, but his options are limited.

Blues centres continue their domination as Mitchell gets his second

After not being included in the original 20-man squad named by Green, St George Illawarra captain Ben Hunt was called up on Monday and watched from the sideline in the role of 18th man as Gold Coast fullback AJ Brimson deputised at dummy half for Harry Grant.

Hunt, suspended Canberra prop Josh Papali’i and Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga, who was ruled out with a groin injury after initially joining the Maroons camp, must surely come into contention for Origin II.

The loss of Melbourne prop Christian Welch after failing a HIA in the 13th minute was a huge blow for Queensland, and he should also be available for the must-win clash in Brisbane.

 

Origin II in Brisbane is sold out but tickets are still on sale for game three at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14 - get your tickets at NRL.com/tickets.