I have now read every Origin perspective Twitter has to offer and have synthesised my own searingly hot take of Game 1, 2019.
Queensland played well but not exceptionally so. Plenty of opportunities presented themselves to blow the game open (Napa should be dropped for not grounding the ball properly) and the Maroons only won by four with the margin created by a fortunate interception. Will Chambers contained Latrell Mitchell, despite concerns that he would be unable to hold back the “world’s greatest player”, but should never be passed the ball ever again. His function is to be a decoy while Cherry-Evans cutout passes to Gagai, who pulled his usual superman transformation from Club Gagai into Origin Gagai. Ponga was bad in the first half, much better in the second half and turning himself into a flying speed bump in the dying seconds of the game (pictured below) probably saved the win for the Maroons.
The forward pack did their job, winning the metre battle and we saw some great work out of Arrow, Kaufusi and, to a lesser extent, Gillett. I say Gillett because I actually noticed he was on the field, which is a step up from his typical form at the Broncos. Cherry-Evans, Munster and Oates (foot going into touch aside) did what was expected of them. Cherry-Evans’ kicking needs a slight polish but this is unsurprising, given this is his first game in weeks.
Anyone telling you Ben Hunt played well at hooker did not watch the game. A hooker has two jobs: pass the ball and make tackles. I saw a small man getting carried by NSW’s starting forwards while “making” his tackles during the opening phase of the game (also a time in which dummy half responsibilities were being shared among six players) and I saw plenty of passes through the rest of the game go to ground before reaching a Maroon jersey. His two redeeming features were a single 40/20ish play and the fact that NSW cooked their rotations so he didn’t get smashed in the closing stages. “But he made the most tackles!” Spare me. If tackle counts mattered, you’d be rating Hunt higher than Cook and that makes no sense. I expect a starting hooker, probably McCullough, will take Hunt’s place in the 9 for game 2 and Hunt will move to 14. But here’s a crazy thought: you don’t actually have to play Hunt at all.
New South Wales sucks. We already knew this from the last 168 years since Queensland cut the cord but this game confirmed it. Fittler said before the game that if everyone played to their abilities, the Blues would win comfortably. Except they didn’t. It turns out two key pieces, Mitchell and Walker, need very specific situations around them for their game busting abilities to shine. Those situations were not created and those players failed. That or they’re flat track bullies and flat tracks are extremely rare in Origin. Fittler should consider dropping Mitchell so that he wakes up to himself but he probably won’t.
That left it up to Cook and Tedesco to create anything, because it wasn’t coming from Cleary, and if you only have one card to play, even a Kevin Walters-coached team can get on top of that. There was no Blues player on the field with the ability to kick the ball short and build pressure, so NSW rarely had much time down in the red zone to crack the Maroons.
It was like Fittler read my Origin piece, dusted his hands off and left it at that without thinking through the implications of his selections. I can get away with limited analysis because I don’t get paid six figures to do it. Fittler should try harder. While he’s there, he might want to review how he used his interchange. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t good. Haas played almost as many minutes as Vaughan and Crichton got as many as Klemmer. Weird. I wonder what will come out about that over the next week. Probably nothing.
Still, NSW almost won the game and continued their extremely lucky form from 2018. Remember when that team was going 3-0? Hmm, that’s suspiciously looking like 2-2 now. Wighton’s interception cost NSW the game. I don’t think we’ll see him again. I also don’t think we’ll see his Raiders teammate’s Ч or accent aigu on another Blues jersey. The mention of Serbian rugby league on the telecast was nice though.
If these takes haven’t been hot enough for you, how about the Blues play Tom Trbojevic at 1, the Italian five-eighth, Tedesco, in 6, Cook at 7 and Cleary at 9? At least then the playmakers are in the halves and Cleary can tackle and long kick to his heart’s content at rake. Trbojevic is no slouch at the back and his return will give the Blues a lot more to work with. They still need to find someone who can kick. If only there was someone available, like Mitchell Pearce, Adam Reynolds, Luke Brooks, James Maloney or, Christ, Mitchell Moses, with that skill set.
Reminder that we’re in tough patch for tipping and that lineup changes can be erratic, affecting the forecast win probabilities. Case in point: some coaches have decided to list their Origin players in the reserves. xPPG only looks at the players listed in the seventeen so having the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans come in for Kane Elgey or Cade Cust can be significant, if all other things are even. I’ve tried to mention this where possible but it wouldn’t hurt to check lineups before you submit your tips this week.
Here are the tips for this weekend’s action:
National Rugby League
Intrust Super Cup