I am a NSW Blues fan in the State of Origin. Correction, I am a frustrated NSW Blues fan in the State of Origin.
You see, as we haven’t won a series since 2005, my frustrations have slowly but surely built to the surface.
What was once a babbling underground brook is now a raging torrent of despair, wiping out the peaceful mind-villages along it’s banks. Dodgy and somewhat confusing metaphors aside, I read somewhere during the week that a NSW Blues series victory has never been tweeted, or posted to Facebook, or communicated in anyway from an iPhone. As a user of all three of these things I am scared by this. We are entrenching a generation of children to not know what a NSW State of Origin victory feels like. Do you remember what it feel like? Because let me tell you, it feels damn good.
I went to a match in Sydney during our last winning series with my then-girlfriend to the then-Stadium Australia. It was an epic feeling for me – the triumph of victory, surrounded by 80,000 other Blues supporters, cheering at the top of your lungs. (The feeling was less grand for my QLD-supporting then-girlfriend – as I recall, she was pelted with beer).
Anyway, I want that winning feeling back, and this is how I think we need to do it:
1. Bog the game down in the forwards. In times gone by, this might have seemed a silly strategy – after all, Queensland’s engine room have layed the platform for their seven straight series wins. However, I believe this year we have a distinct advantage in the forwards, and the more time we can spend in the middle third of the field the bigger our advantage will grow. Queensland is taking the oldest average State of Origin side in the history of the contest into this game – an average age of 29. Meanwhile, our young and powerful forward pack, featuring the likes of giant humans James Tamou and Andrew Fifita, will be able to play big minutes. A superhuman Paul Gallen rounds off a well rounded forward pack that will be able to go all day at high intensity. Do Queensland have a bad forward pack? Not by a long shot. But I’d argue it is weaker and slower than at any time during their dominant stretch.
2. Kick the ball away from Slater. Billy Slater is the best kick-returner in the league. He gets to the ball incredibly quickly, and he makes many metres throughout the course of the game simply by these quick returns. We need to keep the ball away from him. If that means kicking on the fourth sometimes, or putting the ball dead, then so be it. We can’t take the risk of letting him get the Queensland forwards a good roll-on at the start of each set. We also can’t take the risk of him in open play.
3. In the second half, run angles and lines up the middle third of the field – particularly with smaller men. If our forwards do the job we need them to do, gaps will start to open up in the middle third of the field as their older, weaker forward pack gets tired. They are still an Origin forward pack, so there won’t be gaping holes… but there might be enough of one for some little men to slip through. This where our spine comes into play. Robbie Farah is a good footballer, but one of his strengths from dummy-half is play-making. He is arguably one of the better number 9s in the game at this. He can help pry open these gaps, and put our 1, 6 and 7 into holes. Jarryd Hayne, James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce are all good ball runners, capable of getting through gaps and setting up – as well as scoring – tries in the back field. If these players are on their games, we could easily set up a couple of tries this way.
4. Cross-field kick for Blake Ferguson. If we get into Queensland’s 20-metre zone and our set plays aren’t working, a good option might be to look for a cross-field kick to Blake Ferguson. Pineapple Cruisers aside, Blake Ferguson has been picked in this side for a reason – he can score tries. One of the major ways he scores tries at the Raiders is cross-field kicks. He is talented in the air, and has a habit of coming down with well-placed kicks to score four pointers. I wouldn’t mind the NSW halves trying this a few times, particularly in the first half – it only has to work once to have the outside defenders wary of it, which will also leave them stretched defending against him and vulnerable to an out-the-back movement down his side of the field.
5. Want it more than them. This sounds silly – but Origin is as much about attitude as execution. Queensland have been dominant because they have had a dominant attitude, as well as amazing players. Last year NSW showed the right attitude, and just got pipped at the post. If we show that same attitude again, we are every chance of winning. And that is what Origin is all about – for all the passion, all the drama, Origin is about proving your superiority by winning. It’s a feeling NSW – and all of the proud NSW fans – desperately need to feel again.
Am I missing anything? Want more? Follow me on twitter @sloanethoughts or my blog sloanethoughts.com
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com