Andrew Ferguson looks ahead to next week’s second game in this year’s State of Origin series
On Tuesday, the teams for the second State of Origin clash between New South Wales and Queensland were announced.
The first Origin match was a dour affair with each side scoring just one try. The match was sorely lacking in attacking prowess, but nevertherless was still an enthralling contest that was decided by a solitary point.
The number of talking points post game were many and varied for both sides.
The Maroons have made only one change to their side that won the first Origin encounter. Cooper Cronk, who suffered a knee injury at the weekend playing for his club side Melbourne against Penrith, is set to be sidelined for up to a month, meaning he may miss the final Origin match as well.
While it seemed obvious that Queensland coach Mal Meninga was always going to pick former Origin and Test half Daly Cherry-Evans to fill the void, he had some other viable options.
First was to move bench utility Michael Morgan into the five-eighth role and move his North Queensland team-mate Johnathan Thurston to halfback, which replicates the positions both play for the Cowboys.
The other option was to bring in the young Brisbane Broncos halfback Ben Hunt, who has been in better form than Cherry-Evans.
But as expected, Meninga played the straight bat and went with experience first. It’s been a method that has served him well at this level, so it was of no surprise that he continued in that vein.
Queensland arrived in Melbourne early to start their preparations. They will doubtless continue to play off the Melbourne Storm players in their side to try and turn the neutral venue into a home venue.
New South Wales
As has been the case for nearly a decade, the New South Wales team selections were closely watched and heavily scrutinised.
All eyes and ears were intently focused on the naming of the halves, as changes were expected. Game one halves Mitchell Pearce (who has had just 3 victories in 13 Origins) and the out-of-form Trent Hodkinson were below the standard expected and required at Origin level. Prior to Origin I, there were calls for Canberra Raiders new recruit Blake Austin to be picked, either as the starting five-eighth or as a bench utility, given his stellar form this year.
After the Blues lost Game I, the same calls to bring in Austin were again made and coach Laurie Daley again ignored them.
Another surprise omission from the Blues Origin I side was proven performer and stalwart Luke Lewis. Despite his very good form for the Cronulla Sharks, Lewis was again left out of the team for the second game.
Lewis’ utility value off the bench would be significant, especially given that hooker Robbie Farah is expected to be playing with an injured shoulder. If Farah goes down with an injury, New South Wales will have no one capable of filling his place on the field as they have again opted for a interchange bench of four forwards.
New South Wales has two player changes from the side that lost Origin I.
Paul Gallen returns and will reclaim the captaincy from Robbie Farah. Brett Morris also returns to the side.
Gallen replaces his Cronulla team-mate Andrew Fifita, while Morris replaces Daniel Tupou. Surprisingly these were the only changes.
The Blues bench, which was expected to come on and blow Queensland off the park with brute force, didn’t come close to the hype. They were all expected to be replaced, along with the halves Pearce and Hodkinson, who had no real impact on the game.
However, only Fifita was dropped as Daley continued with his plan to have as few disruptions to the side as possible, hoping that it will equate to a more confident and improved performance.
Gallen and Morris both played at the weekend for their clubs for the first time since returning from injury. Gallen hasn’t played since picking up a hip injury almost two months ago. He returned to captain Cronulla on the weekend to a tough 10-4 win against the much fancied Sydney Roosters.
Morris returned to club football at the weekend from a hamstring injury sustained 2 months ago, playing in a convincing win for his Bulldogs side against his former team, the Dragons.
With Farah expected to be at less than fully fit, it appears that New South Wales has adopted a game plan focussing entirely on forward dominance in the middle of the field.
New South Wales will be in camp at Coffs Harbour all week, a long way away from the venue for Game II.
Queensland squad: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Will Chambers, Johnathan Thurston, Daly Cherry-Evans, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), Nate Myles, Aidan Guerra, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker; Subs: Michael Morgan, Josh McGuire, Matt Gillett, Jacob Lillyman.
New South Wales squad: Josh Dugan, Brett Morris, Josh Morris, Michael Jennings, William Hopoate, Mitchell Pearce, Trent Hodkinson, James Tamou, Robbie Farah, Aaron Woods, Beau Scott, Ryan Hoffman, Paul Gallen (c); Subs: Trent Merrin, Boyd Cordner, David Klemmer, Josh Jackson Coach Laurie Daley
Queensland: IN: Daly Cherry-Evans. OUT: Cooper Cronk
New South Wales: IN: Paul Gallen, Brett Morris. OUT: Andrew Fifita, Daniel Tupou
Date: June 17
Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground