Almanac Rugby League – 2021 State of Origin, Game 1: A wave of Blue crashes Townsville



Game 1 of the 2021 State of Origin series has been played and won. Almanac editors Sean Mortell and Ian Hauser offer their thoughts on how it all panned out.


Sean Mortell


It felt right for Origin to head up to far north Queensland. A vibrant stadium. A packed maroon crowd. Energy. Passion.


Although the 2020 version wasn’t too long ago, it felt like forever since State of Origin graced our screens when Queensland’s worst side ever re-enacted the Australian 1989 Ashes squad in a sensational series win. With two of the three games given to them in their own state, many Maroons waltzed past TV cameras with a swagger, yelling their pride and preparing for another victory.


But it was a big night for Queensland’s young side in a variety of ways. For all of their glory from last year’s unexpected triumph, this year’s series would be a true test. Were Queensland really good enough to mix it with the quicker, slicker Blues? Last year they won with pure grunt and mental strength in the clutch moments. This year, they’d have to find another element to match an exciting New South Wales outfit.


Usually the away team has to settle quickly in front of a parochial interstate crowd. But it was Queensland who looked timid and shaky. In the first ten minutes, Cherry-Evans recklessly flew through the air to block Tom Trbojevic, gifting Cleary an easy two points. In a game where first points were critical, Queensland started a sloppy chain by gifting them the opening score.


To make matters worse, Queensland’s defensive end couldn’t hold the ball in the centre. The Blues were too efficient and quick in transferring to deadly runners on the wings while the Maroons opening possessions went nowhere. Even the kicking game of Munster was off-kilter – first too short in the Townsville breeze and then overshooting the field to remove all signs of field position dominance.


The Blues, a well-oiled machine thirsty for vengeance, pounced on these slight errors. Tom Trbojevic, after being involved in the penalty, then capitalised off another with a blistering try. With Cleary’s kicking game on song, the Blues had an 8-0 lead before the biased crowd could draw breath.


If it could’ve gotten any worse for the shell-shocked Maroons, they only had to wait four minutes for debutant To’o to go through for his maiden Origin try on the left wing. On this occasion, Cook’s versatility and brutal turn of pace was unable to be stopped, making the Maroons look proppy and slow as he set up the winger for a golden moment. With the home crowd already fuming at the opening exchanges, Latrell Mitchell stepped in for Cleary to convert the try while Cleary had his cut face attended to. Whatever New South Wales did, it worked.


Already rapt with his start, To’o made it even better six minutes later with another score, this time set up by a scintillating Sims pass – the type that draws a sharp intake of breath at its daring and execution. It opened up the field and made the Maroons bleed with a 20-0 scoreline.


Facing a scoreless half, the Maroons did at least enough to get the crowd into it. Capewell, coming up against many of his Panthers mates and losing, sidestepped Trbojevic to cap off a smooth across field play. In the moment, including the final exchanges of the opening half, Queensland looked back into the contest, primed for the type of comeback they revel in at Origin level. For fans enjoying the first Townsville Origin clash, they could quickly return to the hope of a maiden thriller to reward their patience. But the stats showed the imbalance – 6 errors by the Maroons to 2 by NSW; 19 tackle breaks from the Blues to 7. 20-6 at the half.


From there, it all went downhill – rapidly. It happened in a blur, with frames of jubilant Blues celebrating telling the story.


48 minutes in, Trbojevic’s kick finds Latrell Mitchell stalking in for a try. 26-6.


A breakout ten minutes later, with Blues streaking at all angles towards the open line. Trbojevic, seemingly everywhere on the field, finishes the job.


Then Saifiti gets in on the act, rubbing it into the noses of a horrified Maroons crowd. In the final moments, Trbojevic watches Cleary smoothly sidestep and race into the open before off-loading it to Tedesco. From there, the magic continues, as Trbojevic’s cut-inside run is rewarded with a deft flick pass. Yet another conversion flies through the mild Townsville night to confirms a demolition job. 50-6. Debutants excel. The Blues secure a vital start to a difficult series. One of redemption. Queensland sulk off, tails between legs. Suddenly, behind the eight ball.


Ian Hauser


In my preview of this match, I mentioned two immutable laws of rugby league – forwards win matches and defence wins matches. These factors combined allow a team to unleash their backs who attack against a retreating defensive line. That’s exactly how it panned out as New South Wales slaughtered Queensland 50-6 in Game 1 of the 2021 State of Origin series.


The Blues pack rolled forward after speedy rucks and excellent service from Damian Cook who was already in front of the advantage line. The Maroon forwards didn’t have time to reform their defensive line and conceded easy yards through the middle. Slick service from Nathan Cleary and, more particularly, debutant Jarome Luai allowed Tom Trbojovic and Latrell Mitchell to run riot and create the havoc Queensland feared. And if it wasn’t them it was pocket rocket debutant winger Brian To’o on the spot to finish things off. These three scored seven of NSW’s eight tries.


In defence, New South Wales swarmed on and swamped the Queensland forwards at the advantage line and drove them back in numbers. They attacked without the ball. Behind a beaten pack, Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster had neither time or space to conjure up anything like an attack of any potency.


It was a complete team effort from New South Wales with every one of their seventeen contributing. Not a single one of them had even an average game. Mitchell and Trbojevic will get the accolades while Cleary will be applauded for his bravery in playing on after a bad facial gash; To’o and Luai will have their supporters. But, for me, it was their forward pack that set the groundwork and created the space, time and opportunities for the halves  and the outside men to strut their stuff. The NSW pack was simply too big, too strong, too mobile and made their opponents look flat-footed, one out and disorganised.


As for the Maroons, Harry Grant never gave up trying and Joe Ofahengaue had his moments when he came off the bench. Among the backs, Dane Gagai was as good as anyone and Xavier Coates was competitive. But the reality is that it looked like men against boys and it’s hard to see them getting back into the series after a flogging of this magnitude. Not even Wayne Bennet could work that miracle!


Well played NSW!


Referee Gerard Sutton was, to all intents and purposes, invisible, the best compliment you can pay a whistleblower.



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  1. Andy Thurlow says

    Two well-written summaries and a good read. So difficult to watch if you were a Queenslander, or supporting them, but from a pair of dispassionate eyes well south and west of this combat, it was still an exhibition of great skill (albeit from the revengeful Blues). The commentators mentioned that the intensity was running at 110%, so you have to give credit to the Maroons for giving it their all. New South Wales have been stewing on losing the unlosable for a year, and that showed very quickly. But Queensland have a history of fighting back, backs against the wall, and I am looking forward to seeing how they react after a media belting, and carrying their State’s disappointment.

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