Friday, June 27, 2008

Origin II, 2008 - The Rant

As I floated home from Suncorp Stadium in a wave of Euphoria, I made a promise to issue a written apology to Darius Boyd, the two-try hero in Queensland's record-equalling 30-blot drubbing of the Blues in Wednesday night's second origin encounter.

During the week I had intimated to all those who would listen and many who wouldn't that Boyd wasn't in the class of player required for origin football. Sure, he is a solid club player and a more than adequate try scorer but not in the top two or three outside backs in the game, particularly as he would be assigned the Fubster (or the shimmy shimmy whoosh man – Mark Gasnier) who terrorised the left defence in Origin I.

But handle it he did in fine fashion, scoring two tries, albeit on the back of some outstanding work from Greg Inglis, showing a clean pair of heels to score a double on debut.

This punter, one of only 52,000 rugby league experts to attend what many have described as the most knowledgeable and intellectual gathering of minds ever assembled in any sporting stadium anywhere in the world (cop that Willie Mason) had adjudicated that the selection of Harrison and Boyd at the expense of Hodges (suspension) and PJ Marsh was still no recipe for success.

Game one was a selection debacle – Karmichael Hunt (as much as my respect has grown for him enormously this season) is no playmaker and Queensland looked lost for options in attack. And no Scott Prince.

What does the man have to do?

Prince was underrated in game II, with many criticising his usually pinpoint kicking game. I thought Prince was an excellent foil for Thurston and indeed took the pressure off both playmakers having multiple options on either side of the ruck.

For the first time in what seemed like years fans were treated to two playmakers in unison, attacking interchangeably, at first or second receiver, or one on the left, one of the right, alternating scheming runs to the line with good support angles and, most importantly, proper depth in attack.

It was rugby league in the days of yore, and it was brilliant to watch.

Mal Meninga must take credit for one of the best tactical performances I have seen by any coach. The backline for Queensland got it just about spot on on every occasion, with great combinations and sublime skills and execution. Sure, a few kicks didn't quite find the mark, but if they did the score would have been a lot worse for the sky blue boys.

Given a few years in partnership and Thurston and Prince might even be in the same heady echelon of greatness as Langer and Lewis, Daley and Stuart, Fittler and Johns.

Queensland's defensive tactics were even better.

Credit must go to the forwards who were a different unit to the one dominated in game I.

Price and Civoniceva were evergreen up front and showed that experience (and a big ticker) counts in important matches. Thaiday and Hannant were also good performers off the bench, with Thaiday's work rate out of his own end particularly impressive.

But I have special mention for Michael Crocker. Queensland will sorely miss this man when he joins the exodus to the UK next season. His hard running and outstanding defence were a real highlight, exemplified by his 80m support effort in the dying stages. Perhaps if he hadn't tackled and run himself to a standstill in the first 75 minutes he would have been able to bend down and reel in the final pass having made a tackle during the play, and run 80m in support, extending the Queensland lead into a record margin.

Harrison and Johnson tackled themselves to a similar standstill, and Tate racked up an almost unbelievable 35 tackles out in the centres protecting Thurston and Prince.

Queensland were smart too, and extremely well disciplined and organised. Nowhere more so was this evident than in the defensive tactics in protecting Scott Prince and Jonathon Thurston. Each were assigned a minder or two in defence and began each set of six either defending on the wing or one in.

As the set progressed each playmaker moved slowly towards the centre of the ruck as NSW moved their attack wider, a clear display of the nous Meninga has extracted from himself and his staff.

Also worthy of mention was the defence of Karmichael Hunt – outstanding in game I, he continued in game II, making devastating tackles in a roving role, moving from fullback to the outside backs, and enjoying a stint at lock during the second half.

He didn't look out of place either.

Despite an odd looking line-up the Queensland side looked better balanced, more aggressive and more hungry than NSW.

So where to for the blues?

Well, I have been saying it for some time - I don't rate Greg Bird as a five-eighth, in a similar way that I don't rate Hunt as a five-eighth. Sure, he is dominant in rep fixtures when the side is dominant in the forwards and the side has such momentum that he can function as a devastating ball runner with the ability to offload the football, while providing plenty of starch in defence. Actually that's the definition of what a lock forward should do.

Having said that – you don't win three consecutive man-of-the-match awards for your state and country being a complete muppet – the man clearly has talent. The reason Bird has been so dominant in recent rep fixtures is that his forwards have been so dominant that the side needs only the dummy-half and halfback as creative options – without them in game II he was found lacking in creativity.

The worst flaw though was the kicking options – when your forward pack is eating up the yards field position comes easy and there isn't any pressure on the kicker, as Thurston and Smith found to their detriment in game I.

Bird's almost non-existent kicking game highlighted NSW lack of options in game II when searching for much needed field position; Peter Wallace was hounded all night by the best charge-down merchant in the game in Steven Price as NSW were starved of genuine long or short kicking options.

As a Queenslander I am much more concerned when he and Paul Gallen form part of what continues to be a devastating back row.

Surely Braith Anasta can shake off his tag as the game's most overrated player (a mantle now firmly cemented by Manly's Jamie Lyon) and grasp a firm hold on the six jumper for the next few years with a solid return

While Peter Wallace struggles to recover from his ruptured lefty, Kurt Gidley, Jarrod Mullen, Brett Finch and Mitchell Pearce all come into contention for the other halves spot. Don't rule out Todd Carney though; as this goes to press he is running a swathe of destruction through the hapless Bulldogs – his turn may have arrived.

In the engine room up front though, they need to consider taking more than one specialist front rower into the game; Jason Ryles, Luke Bailey and Brent Kite should come into consideration.

On the plus side though I thought that Brett Stewart slightly outpointed Billy Slater at fullback, mainly because so much was asked of him in the last line of defence that he had to be right on his game all night.

Queensland showed that genuine creativity and multiple options can be devastating – lets hope they keep the same side for game III.

With Lockyer all but ruling himself out origin III one thing is for certain – he will become miraculously available sometime in the next 72 hours and be rushed into the squad.

Which means someone will miss out.

Cue Scott Prince.

What does the man have to do?

I for one hope that Prince is in...

Long Live the Prince!

Bring on the decider!

That's how I'm seeing it,


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