Almanac Rugby League – 2020 State of Origin, Game 1: Flickering start, high beam finish





What a strange game! The first half would have to be the worst half of Origin football I have ever seen. Thankfully the second period produced something more akin to what we expect at this level. I’ll try to be kind by saying that, in their defence, many players hadn’t played a match in several weeks and they were a bit rusty. ‘A game of two halves’ wouldn’t be out of place as a summary, not just on the scoreboard but also in the intensity of play, the skills on show and those defining moments we come to expect in Origin.


In brief, New South Wales got out to 10-0 after 20 minutes after a presence-of-mind moment by Damien Cook to score, followed soon after by a copybook sweep to the right for Josh Addo-Carr to go over in the corner. The rest of the half was utterly forgettable by both sides – fumbles, uncoordinated sets of tackles, forward passes, a lack of direction, no intensity. The commentary team labelled it ‘exciting’ and ‘frantic’. Maybe, but only in the sense that we were simply waiting for the next mistake to terrorise us. NSW deserved their lead at the break because they created and took two chances.


In the second half, Queensland played with more vigour and created two tries out of nothing, one to AJ Brimson and one to Xavier Coates, to take the lead, then forced NSW deep into their own territory and attacked through defence. The inevitable mistake came via a poor Tupou attempt at an offload which allowed jack-in-the-box Munster to gather and scoot away to get the lead out to 8. NSW finally woke up but their attack lacked precision and they could only get one try back through Addo-Carr. Queensland hung on in the best traditions of Origin and snuck home by 4.


Damien Cook and Dane Gagai stood out in the first half – they are passionate Origin warriors! Cook was dangerous with every possession, choosing well when to pass and when to run. His try was not unlike Cameron Smith’s in the Grand Final, showing the presence of mind, the poise and the skill to score an opportunist try. Gagai did not give James Tedesco any space and limited the star fullback’s input. Gagai foiled a likely Tupou try with an intelligent rushing tackle to put the winger into touch centimetres short of the line and, with the ball in hand, ran with purpose and energy.


Queensland took over and dominated 35 minutes of the second half. Daly Cherry-Evans found a bit of direction, Munster came into play, the Maroons defended aggressively and took their limited opportunities when they came. Brimson followed up a good break and kick by Kurt Capewell to score on debut. Minutes later Gagai befuddled the NSW defence, turning Tedesco inside out before sending Coates away for his own debut try to put the Maroons in the lead. Munster seized on Tupou’s error and eluded Cook’s chase to  push the margin out. Throughout this period, the Blues looked disorganised, seemingly waiting for ‘it’ to happen without actually doing anything to make ‘it’ happen.


Only in the last five minutes did NSW get into position to do something about it all. Cody Walker added some zip off the bench and directed the Blues forward where they scored via Addo-Carr. Another last minute raid fell short and the underdogs scored a surprise win to reinforce that fine line between winning and losing.


NSW were best served by Damien Cook, head and shoulders above his team-mates. Clint Gutherson bustled away in the centres, Addo-Carr was energetic, Cordner was his usual reliable self and Cody Walker’s cameo might see him in the run-on side next week. Nathan Cleary was disappointing, Jake Wighton went largely unsighted, Tedesco rarely threatened. The forwards were honest at best and ineffective for much of the second half.


For the winners, debutants Brimson, Coates and Capewell looked like they belonged in this company while Tino Fa’asuamaleaui showed youthful energy and Lindsey Collins added spark off the bench. Gagai was outstanding and must have gone close to Man of the Match (which went to Cherry-Evans). Josh Papalii led the pack with Christian Welch having his best Origin game to date. Cherry-Evans and Munster took over in the second half and forced the Blues back repeatedly. Jake Friend tackled his heart out but couldn’t match Cook’s attacking prowess. Ben Hunt was good off the bench in a roving capacity and Jai Arrow had a useful impact.


The Wayne Bennett myth added another chapter, almost reminiscent of his effort in Game 1 back in 2001. Can he manufacture another win next week or the week after to silence whatever doubters there may still be out there?


This series needed Queensland to win Game 1 and they’ve managed that. Expect a better clash next week in Sydney – if the players can lift themselves after a long and demanding year.


To read Sean Mortell’s review of this match click HERE.


To return to our Footy Almanac home page click HERE.


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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.


  1. Liam Hauser says

    The first half certainly didn’t have a typical Origin feel to it, as it was unusual to see the match begin in twilight rather than when the sun has fully gone down. It was evident that quite a few players hadn’t played for several weeks.
    The scoring pattern had an uncanny similarity to game 2 of 2018, with the teams reversed. On that occasion in 2018, Queensland led 10-0 and then conceded three converted tries, before scoring last in an 18-14 defeat which decided the series.
    Another occasion when an 18-14 result occurred in Origin was game 1 of last year, with Queensland the victor. As we know, NSW inflicted a thrashing in game 2 and then won the series with a last-minute try in the decider. Daly Cherry-Evans should certainly be hell-bent on doing everything possible to prevent a repeat of that.
    The remainder of this series will also be interesting for Wayne Bennett, who has been in this position at Origin level before. In 1998, Queensland won game 1 narrowly and then got thumped in game 2 before winning the decider convincingly. In 2001 when there were lots of rookies (like this year), Queensland won game 1 and then came crashing back to earth in game 2, before winning the decider 40-14 when Allan Langer returned.
    In both 1998 and 2001, Queensland learned much more from a loss in game 2 than a win in game 1. And the continuing Queensland players from last year should also remember how tough it was to back up after a win in game 1.
    It’s been a little over 4 years since the last time Queensland wrapped up a series in game 2.

  2. An interesting feature of the second half was that, for most of the half, Queensland has four (yes, 4!) play-makers on the field – DCE, Munster, Friend and Hunt – providing them with multiple options to attack. For the Blues, they looked at their best late in the game with Walker calling the shots. Will he replace Keary next week?

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