Let the recriminations begin after a good old-fashioned Maroon tub-thumping last night.
But not here, I’m sorry to say. The media and comments pages are doing more than enough of that. Besides, kicking team when they are down is not the Dr’s style. Let’s keep it positive (referees not included), because I’m very well aware of recency bias (the idea that we extrapolate based on the last observation), and the ability of series deciders to go the distance, irrespective of the results of previous matches.
I’d simply prefer to make a few observations from last night’s game, tempered by the passing of almost a full day of ice baths and reflection.
Having drawn attention to Game 2, 2008 earlier in the week, and the fact that NSW were effectively walking into an ambush, my worst fears were realised within the first 20 minutes. I hate it when history repeats!
By that point, the strenuous effort put into a pre-match media campaign to influence the referees had worked its special charm for the Queenslanders, who showed no sign at all of starting a fight. It was about the football. It was about winning.
Dubious penalties and somehow missing Maroon strips that could be seen from the dark side of the moon helped the Queenslanders control more than 80% of possession for the first third of the match, aided and abetted by all the penalties up until the 24th minute. NSW couldn’t even earn a penalty for Maroon markers standing side by side, or rushing off the defensive line.
It doesn’t matter who you are, these are stats that are nigh on impossible to overcome, should not have occurred, and completely ruined the match as a contest.
Queensland began the match in 5th gear as I had expected. A bit like some people I know whose conversations begin mid sentence and continue from there! Anyway, it seemed pretty obvious they would. Yet, the Blues were strangely unprepared, and therefore, submissive.
All up, it really was a rather odd match, and almost surreal to watch. A bit like the ‘spill’, actually.
The Battle of the Forwards
Sam Thaiday’s efforts in the first couple of minutes prior to his opening try were almost worthy of a man-of-the-match award right then and there. If his amazingly penetrating, rhino-like charges couldn’t awaken the Blue Beast to what confronted them, then it was always going to be a long night, referees or not.
Instead, the Blues’ intensity and focus were as absent as their shoulders in defence (says I, from the lounge with a cup of tea … chai).
The new ‘stat du jour’, metres gained after initial contact, must have been hugely in favour of the Maroons. Then again, the NSW line speed was dreadful, so metres were coming relatively easy to begin with.
NSW needed to control the middle of the park as a base requirement, yet weren’t even close. Again, it comes down to what was allowed to happen in the first half hour, but still, the Supercoach numbers emphasise how completely the Blues were outplayed by the Queensland forwards (336 vs 258).
And when you don’t control the middle, you invite the best backline in the game – ever – a free reign.
From that perspective, what on earth were the NSW halves going to be able to conjure?
They were always moving backward based on a sliding forward platform, had lethargic and exhausted ball runners by their side, and were under intense pressure when they were kicking. Not to excuse a poor performance totally, but there were mitigating circumstances, and we all need a Kevin Rudd-like cold shower before going down the dumping route when a win in the next match wins the series.
In contrast, every Queensland backline play was a sweeping, magisterial thrust, full of point-scoring menace. They actually looked like scoring more often than they did. It’s amazing how good a backline can look when faced with an exhausted, back-pedalling defence. Their decoys were good, their high balls were better, and their pace was exceptional.
Given the performance of the referees in the first half alone, is there any prospect of sin binning referees? Or an outright send off?
The ‘brawl-ette’ in the 2nd half was a further case in point. The only consistency referees exhibit is in showing they don’t know the rules don’t understand them even if they do know them, and don’t have a feel for the game.
Sin binning Justin Hodges and Trent Merrin was where it should have stopped. Adding a further two who had either been hit, or rushed in to stop the melee, was downright embarrassing.
There is no point blaming David Smith for his excellent, proactive move in toning down the fisticuffs. That might upset some old timers, but 10yrs down the track no-one will think twice about it. And the code will be the better for it, too.
As the NRL showpiece (or mantelpiece, according to Benny Elias), the football should be front and centre, not a cheap shot. And certainly not the referees.
This blog is only in its own first season, and a running theme has been that refereeing is one of the aspects of the game that is holding it back. This is David Smith’s next task – fixing this putrid, decaying area of the game – and it’s even more important than ‘the biff’.
The inevitable debate is going to occur about Pearce vs Reynolds between now and Origin 3, and you wouldn’t be putting your house on a ‘no change’ outcome given Reynolds’ form. I wouldn’t recommend it at this point though. That would be taking pressure to ridiculous extremes. Still, it’s not a zero probability.
The debut of Nathan Merritt was unfortunate. But once again, if he was acting on instructions, are the critics being too harsh? Either way, there will be players returning from injury that will return him to the Bunnies, as well as a very real prospect of a lean and mean Jamal Idris taking a spot on the bench at least.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t make too many changes other than to restructure playing time and starting vs bench players.
Andrew Fifita is playing like an incumbent Australian front rower, even delivering Justin Hodges his very own Ben Creagh moment! He should start Origin – no debate.
Paul Gallen should be playing the first 20-25 minutes of the first half and either the front or back section of the 2nd – the 80 minute schtick isn’t working at all for the team, and the team is what it’s all about. There are players like Fifita, Tamou, Woods and so on who need to be doing more attacking work as a unit. The Sharks players step up and contribute even more meaningfully when Gallen is sidelined. Ever notice that?
Anyway Blues fans, don’t be too despondent. While we’re tracking exactly like the 2008 series and Origin 3 will be close, we can still get it done! Let’s hope history stops repeating in a couple of weeks.