Almanac Rugby League – State of Origin x 2 plus International footy

 

It’s a huge weekend for rugby league! Commencing on Friday night, we can indulge in five, yes FIVE, top level matches featuring men’s and women’s State of Origin as well as three international clashes. Once we get to 7.30pm tomorrow, it will be a case of ‘see you on Monday morning’.

 

We start with the annual women’s Origin clash at North Sydney Oval. Last year’s game was one of the best of the total ARL/NRL year – fast, rugged, skilful, and tight. NSW came away with a win after a late try, so you can bet that the Maroons will be hell bent on turning that around this time. The Blues will go in as slight favourites but don’t be surprised if it again comes down to the last moments. NSW features established stars in Isabelle Kelly, Maddie Studdon, Kezie Apps and Simaima Taufa while Queensland will look to the likes of Ali Brigginshaw, Chelsea Baker, Heather Ballinger, Brittany Breayley and Steph Hancock. It should be a beauty!

 

Saturday features the three international games. The Kiwis take on Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium in what should be an epic, brutal and emotional struggle. Their clashes in recent seasons have been little short of earth-shuddering. Take one look at the opposing forward packs and it looks like it could be seismic. Benji Marshall makes a return to the NZ side for the first time in several years while Tonga will miss the suspended Andrew Fifita. With several game breakers on either side, it’s hard to nominate the winner – maybe the Kiwis with home ground advantage but there will be a huge Tongan presence at the ground which could lift the ‘visitors’.

 

Fiji and Lebanon take to Leichhardt Oval in the early evening game. You’d fancy Fiji in this one given the greater NRL experience on show but Lebanon features old stagers like Robbie Farah and Tim Mannah to guide them around the paddock. I expect this game to be open, fast and high scoring which will probably favour the Fijians. I’ll be watching to see how Maika Sivo goes at this level. Four years ago he scored the match-winning try for Gundagai in the Group 9 Grand Final when he was a comparative novice in rugby league. Now he’s an established NRL player. Go Maika!

 

The big day concludes with Samoa taking on the PNG Kumuls, also at Leichhardt Oval. Samoa boasts by far the greater NRL experience but the Kumuls are nothing if not tough, dogged and determined, so this will be no pushover. Samoa features the likes of Jamayne Isaako, Anthony Milford, Martin Taupau and David Nofoaluma, all proven players at the top end of the scale. The Kumuls will rely on the experience of James Segeyaro and Rhyse Martin but can draw on the involvement of many of their players in the QCup to boost teamwork. It’s likely that this will be lower scoring than the preceding game but I expect it to be no less engaging. Samoa to be too big, too fast and too skillful.

 

Sunday night brings us the big one, State of Origin II, when Queensland will try to wrap up this year’s series while NSW will do all they can to fight back and take it to a series decider in Sydney next month. On the surface, Queensland seems to have more things going in their favour – the psychological advantage of victory in Game 1, a more settled team, plenty of improvement in them in spite of their earlier win, and Daly Cherry-Evans in top form. Having overcome an 8-point halftime deficit, a couple disallowed tries, a couple of bombed opportunities and some clunky coordination and yet still win in Brisbane, their confidence will be fairly high.

 

NSW looks comparatively unsettled with seven changes to their team, including a young debutant prop thrown in at the deep end, a reshuffled backline with the bewildering axing of Latrell Mitchell, as well as the enormous pressure of having to win. In their favour is a stronger spine with the inclusion of the wily James Maloney alongside his Penrith team-mate Nathan Cleary in the halves. NSW also appears to have a stronger bench, especially with the return of the versatile and somewhat underrated Wade Graham.

 

But there is rarely more than a hair’s breadth between these two rivals and I won’t be surprised to see another cliff-hanger. Just take a look at the full team lists to see the abundance of talent and skills on show and lick your lips at the prospect. Game 1 was a cracker and the players will do well to emulate their feats from then. But this is Origin where extraordinary things happen because it’s played by extraordinary masters of their craft, so don’t be surprised if they do it again. One missed tackle, one dropped ball, the width of the sideline or the thickness of a goalpost could decide it – there’s a fine line between winning and losing. I have a gut feeling that the relative performances of the two No. 9s, Ben Hunt and Damien Cook, will go a long way towards settling this one. And let’s hope that both the on field and video refs both have a good game.

 

My tips for the weekend (in order of playing): Queensland, NZ, Fiji, Samoa and Queensland.

 

We’ll have a review of all of the games here at the Almanac on Monday. Enjoy this feast of rugby league, ‘the greatest game of all’.

 

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About Ian Hauser

A happy, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV - although I do share the never-to-be-beaten record for the tenth wicket for the long-defunct Unley Lutheran Cricket Club - a partnership of 62 with Craig Hartmann in 1973! A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I'm a firm believer in the notion that there is a fine line between winning and losing in sport. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of footyalmanac.com.au's online editors, I offer a comprehensive editing service for both new and experienced writers. Check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au Queenslander!

Comments

  1. Hoping that you’re right about Queensland, Ian, and that NSW’s series win last year was just an aberration.
    Given this is the 40th year of rugby league State of Origin, and with Perth a new venue for the contests, I wonder how many different stadiums have been used.
    I might be wrong, but didn’t the ARL once play an Origin game in Los Angeles or thereabouts?

  2. Pete, you’re correct. There was a one-off game at Veterans Stadium, Long Beach, California on 6th August, 1987. After the annual three-game series here, the ARL staged what, at the time, was called ‘an exhibition game’ to try to promote the code in the USA. Before a crowd of 12,349, NSW defeated Queensland 30-18. Various stories surround the game. North of the border, it has always been regarded as purely an exhibition match with no official standing. South of the Tweed, they prefer to see it an an official clash which squared the series for that year, Queensland having won the traditional series 2-1. I recall from the time that the Queenslanders were reported to have not taken the clash very seriously (given it was an ‘exhibition match’) while the Blues were more than keen enough to try to even out the scores from the year’s series. To be honest, I’m not sure of its standing these days. You’d do well to consult official ARL sources to get the official answer. Coincidentally, my son Liam is a bit of an expert on Origin history having had two books published on the topic. You can get his second book on the topic, ‘State of Origin: 35 Years’ (Rockpool Publishers; Sydney, 2015). This will be updated for release next year to mark 40 years of Origin. He makes reference to the Long Beach game in the introductory section to that year’s series and includes the statistical information on the Long Beach game in the Appendices but doesn’t provide a full match report as he does for every other game. It’s not hard to tell what he thinks!

  3. Liam Hauser says

    The 1987 State of Origin exhibition match in Long Beach, California, has proven to be a blight on the game. The match is counted in the Origin stats and career records of the players, and the match is counted in the win-loss tally, yet it isn’t counted as part of the annual three-match series. To me, this is downright insane. Put simply, an exhibition match is an exhibition match, and should not count at all. The match was staged in an effort to promote rugby league in the USA, and the lack of follow-up suggests to me that the excursion was a fizzer. In another State of Origin book, author Jack Gallaway titled his 1987 chapter “An American Journey”. To me, it is also downright insane to use the exhibition game as the focus of the chapter title.
    Last year I watched a DVD of the exhibition game for the first time, and it certainly didn’t resemble an Origin game. The setting and the atmosphere lacked the elements that define Origin football. Courier-Mail sports journalists, mainly Barry Dick and Mike Colman, have called it a Mickey Mouse game. Amen to that!

  4. Gee, 32 years ago, Ian, time has certainly flown.
    Interestingly, the AFL also had an overseas presence that year, with “The Battle of Britain” at The Oval and the infamous promotion of John Ironmonger eating a raw steak off the pavement (or variations on that theme) for matches in Canada.
    I know the US is pretty competent at rugby union, but how do they fare at rugby league?
    Liam is certainly carving a niche as a writer.
    I have a copy of his very informative “A Century of Tests” and once I read a few books queueing up to be read, I may buy “The Immortals of Australian cricket”.

  5. Oops, my sincere apologies, Liam, I replied to your message thinking it was your father writing it.
    The eyes are a bit blurry after staying up to watch the cricket.

  6. Sorry gang, the only thing I know about rugby is that, from ages 9 to 12 (me that is0, my father was the proud owner of a RUGBY DURANT motor car. How we loved that car even though Dad never drove it above 40 miles per hour. He eventually traded it in for a TERRAPLANE.

    For me, the only footy is Aussie rules, I just can’t get interested in Soccer or Rugby.

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