With history beckoning for NSW in State of Origin 2 this Wednesday, it is worth reminding Laurie’s pups of some significant, but underappreciated history.
No, not the fact that Queensland has won the last 7 series. That is already painfully etched into all New South Welshmen’s (persons?) brains.
And no, not the five matches Fox Sports noted today as highlighting the Maroons’ ability to scrape through important games and either keep the series alive, or win it outright. Those games proved the mettle of the Queenslanders to be sure, but are not directly relevant to the game at hand.
Context is everything, so it you’re really going to try to make a comparison for this Wednesday’s encounter, take your mind back to the last time NSW won Game 1 and a had an opportunity to wrap up the series early.
It was a long time ago – 2008.
I was there, and the Blues looked so impressive that even Peter Wallace and Anthony Quinn looked good!
However … Queensland’s response in Game 2 at Suncorp Stadium was ruthless and clinical, teaching the young Blues’ upstarts a rugby league lesson in preparation and humility, and almost certainly giving them the mental edge for Game 3.
If you can bear the pain of recalling it, NSW lost that match 30-0, but it was really over at half time with the score 16-0. It was a shut-out that emphasised the brilliance and determination of an already super-talented team. Three rights definitely make a right!
NSW would do well to relive that game in their preparation.
While that Maroons team is a little older now, they aren’t ready for their Zimmer-frames by a long shot. They are just as passionate and damaging as ever, and by the looks of it, just as intense in their use of media.
Michael Ennis proved just a few weeks back that verbal intercourse with the referees can have immediate effect. His jibber jabber resulted in a soft penalty against the Cowboys in the next set of six that would have sent Ricky Stuart into orbit had it been Parramatta, and leading to a converted try. This is the type of subliminal messaging the Queenslanders are hoping to create in the simple minds of the referees. Mud sticks, as they say.
The other objective is to create subconscious doubts in the Blues players about how the referees plan to interpret the rules. A second’s hesitation, or a poor reaction to a penalty that has effectively been ‘pre-ordained’ is enough to cause distraction – and lead to points.
So when the Queenslanders and their compliant media attempt to highlight NSW rules breaches and wax endlessly about revenge, get-squares and whatever other form of violence they can conjure, just know that they are sending out distractions while they work tirelessly on a shock and awe game plan that involves none of the above, but hopes for some soft penalties along the way.
It is almost humourous to watch Cameron Smith try to verbal referees about ruck infringements given his hand becomes almost permanently grafted to the ball as the opposition attempt to play the ball. And I wonder if his criticism of the referees for having a wider 10-metres for Queensland in Game 1 was worthy of a fine? I’m sure Cameron’s money is as good as Ricky’s …
There is little doubt in my mind that the Maroons will begin Origin 2 at breakneck speed, designed specifically to create an early lead that whips the crowd into frenzy, and unsettles a Blues team that might just be a little cocky after Origin 1. The hope would be that the Blues revert to Ricky-style naval gazing and introspection in the event of referee decisions not going their way.
NSW need to be resistant to the mind games, resolute and stoic in their performance, and play an extreme up-tempo match highlighted by a first 20 minutes that makes Origin 1 look tame. This is a basic requirement, because it will certainly be coming from an opposition eager to make amends for a poor start in Origin 1.
And, they don’t want to repeat 2008 and be 16-0 again at half time. A slow start by the Blues and this is a very realistic possibility. Make no mistake, they are in ambush territory.
NSW need to take the crowd out of the equation early before it becomes a weight too heavy to bear, and the Maroon momentum too strong to contain.
The Blues also have a relatively young and inexperienced backline, highlighting that it really is Mitchell Pearce’s time to make a mark at this level, or make way for Adam Reynolds.
The NSW forward pack, however, is big and menacing. Andrew Fifita’s Origin debut was a veteran’s performance, and Aaron Woods is arguably a better fit for this team than James Tamou in current form.
It would not surprise in the least to see NSW use this advantage and attempt to own the middle of the park. They need to. Only in this way can they silence the young man from Kempsey, the crowd and, ultimately, the scoreboard.
So Laurie … show them the damn tape from 2008. Show your team what happens when focus is lost against quality opposition.