The fine line – Origin at its best

After Game I of this year’s State of Origin series, I made the point that Liam’s theory that there’s a fine line between winning and losing in SOO was alive and well. Two games later, it’s reinforced in spades. The margins were 8, 4 and 1 with an overall differential of +5 to Queensland. I wrote about the closeness in Game I earlier. In Game II, only Jennings’ last gasp slap stopped a Tate try which would have leveled the scores with a kick to come late in the game. Last night the difference was Cronk’s killer with 5 minutes to go.

Game III was built up as the most important match in the history of Origin – a bit over the top, perhaps. Regardless of such hype, what we got was another Origin classic, a brutal, no holds barred, engrossing, and nerve wracking collision between two utterly committed teams slogging it out to the last second. What we got was confirmation that State of Origin is the pinnacle of the code – nothing, but nothing matches up to this!

Here are a few observations about each side. Queensland had its best game of the series. They always had this one in them. I think I said after Game I that they had more improvement in them than NSW and so it proved. So we saw more aggressive defence by the forwards based on better line speed, straighter and harder running in attack, more width to their game, Thurston asserting himself, a marauding Inglis, a more settled Cronk. All of these were missing at some stage in the earlier games; last night they all came together.

If Meninga, legendary player and now legendary coach, is not the next Immortal, there’s no justice in the game. Thurston reborn equals NSW nightmare. His “show and go” hasn’t had much of an outing in this series but it changed the game last night. Smith is a lead-from-the-front captain in both attack and defence and always one of the best on the paddock. They don’t come much tougher than Nate Myles who thoroughly deserved his medal. Having Shillington on the bench is an absolute luxury. Tate is the ultimate competitor, Nielsen didn’t let anyone down and Hodges had his best Origin game in a while.

NSW emerge from this series within a whisker of success. But it was always going to be too big an ask for the Blues to maintain the intensity and ferocity they showed in Games I and II. Last night, the forwards more than met their match and the youngsters in the front row couldn’t sustain their effort. There was too much sideways running and not much structure to the Blues’ play. At 10 – 8 they looked tired; at 16 – 8 and with a few minutes to halftime, they were battered, bloodied, bunched, buggered and one try away from beaten. Which says a lot about their second half comeback but, in the end, they just couldn’t find the last play to win.

On the upside, the ultra-competitive Ricky Stuart has them believing in themselves in a way not seen for several years. Gallen is the leader they’re been looking for since Andrew Johns gave it away. Farah is achieving what he’s always been suspected of having within him. Bird is the NSW equivalent of Myles – not pretty but simply made for Origin. The Morris twins are the future of the backline.

There are still a few unsolved problems for the Blues. After three years of opportunity and, in this series, playing behind a winning pack in the first two games, it seems that Pearce is not an Origin halfback. He has been unable to stamp his mark on a single game – a good back-up player but not a dominator. Contrast this with Thurston who picked up his fourth man of the match award last night. Peter Wallace is the man! Carney’s defence is a problem – he’ll have nightmares about Inglis for while after this game; Creagh still doesn’t convince at this level, even when uninjured; why the hell is Luke Lewis only a bench player?

This year’s series has been the best since 2006. Even though Queensland has won seven on the trot, any talk that Origin is dead or even dying is total rubbish. Are Queenslanders any less passionate? Are New South Welshmen any less determined to win back superiority? Look at last night, look at this year’s series, look at the size and passion of the crowds and the answer is an overwhelming “no”.

Finally, valé Petero Civoniceva, one of the game’s giants. You showed us you still have it in you. It’s hard to imagine anyone would begrudge you a winning exit from Origin. What many of us will remember most about you is your humility which was clearly on display again last night on the podium. Thank you for everything!

Go Maroons!

About Ian Hauser

A happily retired ex-teacher with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through who looks for those beautiful moments in sport (and life) that capture the spirit rather than the law of the game. Love reading and good wine. I run my own editing service for aspiring writers. Check me out at writerightediting.com.au

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