That came to life all of a sudden. NSW controlled the opening 20 minutes without looking overly threatening. The Queensland bench again freshened things up and the Maroons hit the front courtesy of a couple of tries, the second of which was a beauty. But they couldn’t withstand a long sustained spell of pressure in the shadow of half-time, and not only that they lost Kaufusi to the bin. Advantage NSW with 40 minutes remaining.
Cleary curls the touchline conversion over to send NSW to the sheds with their noses in front.
… and they do. A couple of tackles under the posts then catch-pass to the left ends with Burton offloading beautifully for To’o to scamper around the outside.
39 mins: Queensland stand firm on the right. Burton changes the line of attack jinking infield. Paulo hammers the line. A try is surely coming. ANOTHER SIX-AGAIN! And Ashley Klein has had enough. Kaufusi is sent to the bin for the latest infringement. Surely, surely, the Blues score now.
37 mins: A full set 20m out becomes a full set 10m out, becomes a full set 5m out as the six-again klaxon reverberates around Optus Stadium. NSW probe to the left, then look to use the space on the right but rely on Tupou’s superb hands to avoid a breakaway counterattack try. The focus turns to the left but there’s no space. Cleary kicks crossfield to the corner and Taulagi climbs above Tupou to defuse the bomb and the Maroons survive. But do they? There’s a penalty against Holmes for impeding Tupou’s leap! More pressure to come from NSW.
35 mins: The first mistake in the air from Queensland in almost three halves of Origin footy with Cobbo failing to grab a Cleary bomb. NSW try to exploit broken field but the Maroons scramble defence superbly – yet again. However, the play returns to the original knock-on, the Blues have A1 field position.
34 mins: Queensland have scored two lovely tries, the second especially, but both have originated from unnecessary NSW penalties. Brad Fittler must be fuming towards the end of a half his side have largely controlled.
Holmes makes no mistake.
Magnificent try from Queensland! Liquid rugby league! Hunt controls the tempo near halfway but it’s Ponga who makes it, dashing on the angle to the outside left, creating the half-space. At the last moment Ponga offloads to Holmes, who feeds the ball back inside to Munster on the shoulder who has 25m to travel next to the posts. That was exhilarating, incisive, and technically precise. Superb try.
30 mins: Back to the arm-wrestle either side of halfway, and after a solid set from NSW the Blues concede a cheap penalty for not releasing Carrigan in the tackle.
Lindsay Collins is off for an HIA
Cleary kicks the Blues back in front with the minimum of fuss.
With Cleary as point guard NSW cut to the right but Queensland scramble well. The ball comes back infield but Cleary and Luai lack momentum and play stalls. But that pause suits Cleary who draws DCE in towards him before kicking around the onrushing defender for Burton to pounce, collect the bouncing ball and dive over. Excellent improvised footy from the NSW half.
26 mins: Queensland back up their try with a solid set near halfway, but they invite pressure with a ruck infringement on Paulo signalling the six-again klaxon.
Cam Murray is back on following his HIA.
Midway between the right touchline and the right upright Holmes makes no mistake.
Queensland have only felt in this game for about three minutes, and that phase of play ends with a try! From the penalty, the Maroons control the ball from the middle to the right through multiple pairs of quick hands until Ponga delays his pass superbly for the onrushing Kaufusi to burst through the line then have enough strength to accept contact near the line, reach over and score.
22 mins: Carrigan has made a difference in his short time on the field and the midfield is now more even with Queensland gaining momentum in the guts. Two sets in a row now NSW have done little more than clear their lines. Their work is only going to increase after Trbojevic is penalised for tipping Cobbo on the 30m line. Very un-Origin-like, the NSW enforcer immediately apologises to the Queensland winger.
21 mins: Another harmless, aimless Queensland attack ends with little threat to the NSW line. The Blues cruise to halfway but Luai’s kick is poor.
19 mins: To’o does well to accept contact and find the offload but with space opening up down the left Luai can’t hold onto a juggling ball. NSW are threatening to break this game open but Queensland are just hanging in.
18 mins: Queensland march downfield and on the last Tedesco tries to step inside but he slips on this greasy surface and concedes the turnover. The game is very much on the Blues’ terms. Grant and Carrigan are again required to make an impression off the bench.
16 mins: Queensland have offered practically nothing so far in attack tonight, but they almost land the first try. A mundane set ends with DCE chipping a grubber inside To’o, who has an age to deal with the situation, but he elects to try to let the ball run into touch, only to find Cobbo lurking in his shadow ready to pounce. The ball bounces nicely, but the youngster can’t ground safely and the chance goes begging. Almost a horror mistake from the Panther there but it goes unpunished.
14 mins: NSW run the ball on tackle two and make gains down the left through Burton. Yeo then punches the line to set up Cleary to bomb. Ponga handles it superbly under pressure but it leaves the Maroons 95m to travel. They make barely five of them in four tackles with the Blues’ defence all over the Maroon forwards. And another charge down! This time the ricochet works in Queensland’s favour and Ponga can scamper away to clear his lines. Soon afterwards there’s a ruck infringement against Luai and from a very unappealing situation the Queenslanders are on the attack.
Cleary makes no mistake off the boot and the Blues have an early advantage.
“Just the matter of fact way the commentator said ‘he’s got blood coming out of his ear’,” notes my editor in reference to Cam Murray. Bloody love rugby league.
11 mins: From the restart the ball comes loose in the carry – it’s another strip! This time Cleary is within range and he will go for the two points.
10 mins: Another early Queensland kick turning the NSW defence around and sending them back to the 10m line. The Maroons playing like a boxer staying behind their jab. It looks to have paid dividends when Martin loses the ball coming out of defence – but Tedesco makes a Captain’s Challenge appealing for a strip – and he’s successful! The game changes in an instant and the Blues have good attacking field position.
However, in the background Murray is off for an HIA after a high shot from Taulagi that will be looked at.
8 mins: NSW get well beyond halfway on the set, then recover the high ball to the right. As with Origin I broken field play doesn’t suit the Blues, Queensland retain their structure and the second kick on the last tackle is hurriedly scrubbed into touch.
A few players slipping over in these early exchanges.
6 mins: Queensland don’t hand around. Munster soon has the ball in his hands running across the line in that jinking matador style of his. He spots a window on the right, the ball goes through hands and Cobbo flies full length… but is bumped into touch short of the line. Munster again such a danger.
4 mins: The golden opportunity comes to nought. A few hits up the middle prepare the ground for NSW to spin the ball to the left but it’s sloppy, the ball goes to ground at the centre position and ends up dribbling harmlessly into touch. Queensland make little ground in response and Cherry-Evans kicks early in the set to buy territory. It doesn’t work though as Tedesco wriggles and spins through a couple of tacklers and breaks the line! NSW are away! Until the whistle blows and Haas is called for obstruction during the breakaway. A couple of huge let-offs early for the Maroons, who now have great attacking field position.
3 mins: Cleary charges down Cherry-Evans’ kick near halfway and recovers the ball near the 10m line. NSW immediately with the bit between their teeth.
2 mins: Good early start for the NSW pack who deny Queensland any space on their first carry out of defence. The Maroons respond in kind, dumping Tupou then Haas in consecutive bone-rattling hits.
Nathan Cleary gets Origin II underway in Perth…
Dangerously close to scheduled, Origin II is upon us.
Difficult to discern a change in pitch when the Blues ran out. A very I’M EXCITED vibe.
Here come the Maroons, jogging out onto Optus Stadium. They are the nominal away side tonight, but they have plenty of support in WA.
Ashley Klein is once again the man in the middle, a decision reportedly not to the delight of the NSW camp who thought the referee did not clamp down enough on Queensland ruck infringements in Origin I.
Conditions: Look, it’s Perth, what do you expect? Of course there are cloudless skies, balmy midwinter temperatures, and just the slightest of breezes.
“Madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin,” intones Phil Gould like a forgotten Chris Morris character. Bloody love Origin.
Also, are Queensland Police suggesting the Maroons are about to commit a crime?
While you’re waiting for the action to get underway, enjoy lifelong Bears tragic Sam Perry keeping the dream alive.
Speaking earlier of the NSW changes to the ruck, Billy Slater reckons they’ve made the Blues a more dangerous proposition, telling Nine: “I see a huge strength in their dummy half position. Firstly with Apisai Koroisau starting the game, he’s got a great craft around dummy half area and then we’re anticipating Damien Cook to come on somewhere late in that first half. So when he gets there, he’s an explosive runner. So that’s what we’ve worked hard on this week. It will be a big strength of their game.”
Time for Grinspoon to churn through some generic 00s rock on a flame effect stage in the middle of Optus Stadium. Incidentally, if you grin into a spoon you will look like Pete Townshend from The Who.
Tonight is the second occasion Origin has crossed the Nullarbor. Back in 2019 the Blues blitzed their way to a 38-6 hammering. NSW crossed for six tries that night but none of the tryscorers are in the line-up this evening.
Mate vs mate, stat vs stat.
The message coming out of NSW is more creativity than Origin I, especially off the bench. The introduction of Api Koroisau at hooker nudges Damien Cook to the pine, from where he has been backed to have more of an impact.
“It helps me I reckon,” skipper James Tedesco just told Andrew Johns. “He [Koroisau] has done it for a number of years at Penrith, Cookie is coming on fresh, 23rd minute mark, plays some havoc hopefully through the middle.”
By contrast, just the two injury-enforced changes to Queensland’s group with Xavier Coates and Reuben Cotter replaced by Murray Taulagi and Jai Arrow.
Brad Fittler isn’t going to die wondering. Wholesale changes were demanded and wholesale changes have been delivered. Jake Trbojevic makes a welcome return in the pack, while the replacement of the centres reflects the inability of the Blues to stretch the play in Sydney. The starting XIII now contains seven Panthers.
The game-breaking Tom Trbojevic and unpredictable Latrell Mitchell remain costly absentees.
Out: Jack Wighton, Kotoni Staggs, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Ryan Matterson, Tariq Sims.
In: Angus Crichton, Apisai Koroisau, Jake Trbojevic, Matt Burton, Siosifa Talakai.
Nick Tedeschi previews tonight clash in what could prove to be a referendum on Brad Fittler the coach.
While the pressure is certainly on NSW to keep the series alive, history suggests this is a very good spot for them. Brad Fittler has not lost a Game 2 during his tenure as coach, suggesting he has been able to make the necessary adjustments when required. And teams who lost the opener have won the last six when Game 2 is held at their home ground or on neutral turf. Fittler has taken a big gamble heading into Perth. Whether it pays off or not will decide not only the 2022 series but Fittler’s reputation as a coach.
Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of – deep breath – the Brydens Lawyers NSW Sky Blues versus the unbranded Queensland Maroons in game two of the 2022 Ampol State of Origin series at Optus Stadium in Perth (AKA Origin II). Kick-off is 5.50pm local time (7.50pm on the east coast).
The best of rugby league enemies venture out of the heartland for one of the biggest fixtures on Australia’s sporting calendar, and they have gone all the way to WA to spread the gospel of the game born in a Huddersfield boozer.
Origin I was a belter, played at breakneck speed with nary an error to give anyone time to breathe. NSW entered as defending champions and clear favourites, but played an uncharacteristically subdued brand of football and were outmanoeuvred by the tenacity of a Queensland side playing on the limit, inspired by the maverick Cameron Munster. Debut coach Billy Slater continued where his record breaking playing career left off, and his decision to back a host of rookies paid off handsomely. The Maroons now only have to win one of the final two matches – neither hosted in NSW – to snaffle an unlikely shield.
Consequently, all the attention has been on NSW and coach Brad Fittler in the lead up to Origin II. Wholesale changes were expected, and duly delivered, with Fittler taking the not unreasonable decision to back-in a stack of Panthers from Penrith’s all-conquering NRL machine. “I have got to pick a team that I think is going to win, and I make no apologies for that,” Fittler said during the week.
Will the Blues make amends? Can the Maroons back up? How will I fare pumped to the gills with antihistamines following a freak hayfever attack? Stay tuned for the next few hours and find out.
Along the way, feel free to get in touch either by email or Twitter @JPHowcroft.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism