New South Wales Level The Series As Origins Axis Shifts

The second game of the 2011 State Of Origin series will be a game that I remember for a very long time.

It is everything I love about sport.

Witnessing a champion side face off against a team full of desire. An amazing contest. Reaching that point in the game when, both teams had proven themselves. Both teams had reach a peak of performance.

That moment where, the result belongs to no one. Its there for the taking. At that very peak of sporting excellence, with both sides giving their all, someone blinks. Someone breaks first. The champion side, with so much history, so many accolades and with an unshakable confidence…..falls.

There were two major thoughts I took away from last nights game.

The first was that, Craig Bellamy was right.

When Bellamy took over coaching New South Wales he came up with the idea of having a smaller, mobile forward pack that would swarm its bigger opponents for 80 minutes.

At the time, I felt it was right. I felt like it was what you would expect from the best coach in the game. He was taking his team in a new direction, and it worked.

Unfortunately for Craig Bellamy  he was coaching against a Queensland team of their very peak. His own Blues side was in a period of transition and the early success he had wasn’t able to be sustained. He moved away from the formula, and history will show that Bellamy wasn’t able to win a State Of Origin series for New South Wales.

Looking at the side Ricky Stuart had selected, he went back to the concept of the smaller, more mobile pack. In fact, many of the players Bellamy used ran out for Stuart, a few years older, a few years better, a few years more experienced.

I would hope someone within the New South Wales set up has acknowledged what Craig Bellamy has done for the Blues, the work he put in and the fact that, last nights game was won on the back of an idea that was born from his reign.

The second thing that stood out for me was the shift in State Of Origin’s psyche.

The State Of Origin concept no longer just belongs to New South Wales and Queensland. This is a series that is watched across Australia and across the world. Its a series that even non Rugby League fans tune into because it is such an epic sporting contest.

Talk to the neutrals. Talk to the Kiwi’s, the Poms, the Islanders. Talk to the people that don’t follow Rugby League, but who never miss an Origin series. Most of them support Queensland.

Queensland used to live off the fact that they were the underdogs. No one gave them a chance against the bigger, more glamorous opponent. New South Wales Rugby League, they controlled the money, they had the power, they had more players to choose from, hell, they selected teams of superstars that couldn’t possibly lose.

Queensland were no chance. The siege mentality. Its us against the world…

After five straight series losses, with the world against them, playing a champion Queensland team with an embarrassment of riches, New South Wales made a stand against its bigger, more glamorous opponent.

Now, its New South Wales vs the world. You could feel that in State Of Origin two.

With 82,000 filling ANZ Stadium in Sydney, and the raw emotion after the win, it showed that State Of Origin wasn’t just something New South Wales fans like, it was something they needed. It is something that runs to the core and is hard to explain.

Anyone that knows me know how much Origin has always meant to me. Its more than just football. Clubs games are great, and I love test football, but State Of Origin is something different that I can’t even begin to explain. I don’t hold it above everything else in the game, not by a long shot, but winning in State Of Origin, its something I have to have.

I think that came through on a greater scale in game two. New South Wales vs the world. We don’t want success at State Of Origin level, we need it. It means something to us.

As for the game itself, Paul Gallen was phenomenal.

Watching him play this year, I’ve had the feeling he is in the top five players in the world at least. Now, I can honestly say I think he is in the top three.

Playing in the front row, he was relentless. He played 80 minutes like a nightmare. He was in everything. All of his work was quality. People talk about leading by example far too often with captains that just turn up to play. Gallen showed what it should mean, he was a man possessed.

The mobile forward pack that New South Wales went with worked so well. Beau Scott was outstanding early. Luke Lewis came on and changed the game. Anthony Watmough, who I felt looked short of a run early, ended the game being everything New South Wales needed him to be.

I thought the New South Wales kicking game was fairly poor at times, but Soward and Pearce came good by the end of the match.

I’ve been critical of Pearce in the past at club and state level, but I think he really came of game in State Of Origin two. His defense was epic, Andrew Johns like. Tough, brutal, he smashed some of those Queensland forwards.

Soward was much better in the second half and really, it was him who sealed the game with a great run and passing the ball on to Anthony Minichello when he could have probably scored himself.

As for Mini, I for one never doubted him. You knew he would not let New South Wales down. You have to pick him for game three. You just have to.

Areas where New South Wales had issues….well, there were a few.

As I said, their kicking game was pretty poor. I felt that Mark Gasnier looks like a player who is not bad, but not quite a State Of Origin player any more. His best just isn’t as good as everyone elses best at this level.

Michael Ennis was the best player in the New South Wales side for the first 20 minutes of the game, yet he found himself substituted for Kurt Gidley after 25 minutes and didn’t return until very late in the second half. Its very hard to argue when New South Wales got the result, but I just don’t see the sense in that move at all. Gidley didn’t do anything amazing, and Ennis, he just is everything you want at Origin. I wouldn’t want him off the field at all if it was possible.

For Queensland, game three now becomes a completely different beast.

The Queensland pack was finally broken in State Of Origin two. They turned up, they kept giving it everything they had, but the mobile New South Wales pack just kept bashing them. The Maroons pack showed so much heart and never gave up, but they were beaten.

How does the bully respond once its been punched in the mouth?

We saw signs of panic in the Queensland side for the first time in years. Lockyer and Thurston were kept quiet. Smith wasn’t given the room to shine. While Billy Slater showed glimpses of being able to tear the game open, he too was handled about as well as you can expect from a game breaker like him.

Greg Inglis seemed to get better as the game went on. He copped a number of knocks during the match, and at one point was smashed by Paul Gallen and left writhing on the ground, face down, in pain. His game, possibly his season, appeared to be over.

From that moment on, the man was a monster. Physically dominating the New South Wales players around him, standing like a colossus. He looked like he was going to with the game for Queensland a couple of times. It was an amazing performance. It was as though he finally found himself again, the player that, on his day, can not be stopped by anyone.

The Queenslanders now head back home to game three, a sold out Lang Park. Darren Lockyers last game. They’ve been beaten, and beaten in a way that has to have shaken their self belief.

There is just so much pressure in this third game now for Queensland, possibly the most pressure any side has ever faced at Origin level.

The glory of a record sixth straight series win, at home, for Darren Lockyer, in his last game.


Losing at home in front of a sellout crowd, knowing its the changing of the guard. Knowing that now, New South Wales hold the trophy, that Lockyer has gone, and now Queensland has to play catch up.

I can not think of another single game in State Of Origin history that has had a swing like that on the cards. One one result, Queensland will either have one of its most glorious moments imaginable, or it was find itself bitterly crushed, having not only its moment taken from them, but knowing that 2012 will be a big mountain to climb.

How can you not want to be a witness to what game three will give every single one of us?

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