How NSW can flip Origin series on its head
ON THE day after a State of Origin loss, everyone loves to talk about the halves.
It's true that Cody Walker had a night to forget for NSW on debut.
And as for Nathan Cleary, he was solid but unspectacular, which as things stand right now will probably be the epitaph to his NRL career when all is said and done.
But those halves can't do anything if their forward pack is getting beaten.
And get beaten in the forwards NSW did on Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium.
So before NSW coach Brad Fittler sends an SOS to Newcastle to beg Mitchell Pearce to once again try and steer the rudderless ship that is the NSW Blues, maybe it's time to take a look at what else went wrong in the Origin opener.
The answer is plenty.
Latrell Mitchell had an all-round shocker but he's so talented he will bounce back. Wing partner Josh Addo-Carr was partly culpable for Mitchell's bad play - thanks to some shocking defensive reads where he left Mitchell exposed due to coming in off his wing constantly.
Outside of that Queensland had the NSW defence worked out. And the Maroons' ability to throw the long ball to either side, as halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster wreaked havoc, left NSW exposed.
It wasn't just in the second half either. The Maroons had plenty of chances early on - they just bombed them thanks to good cover defence, a Corey Oates misstep and Dylan Napa trying to score a try with his forearms.
But down 8-0 at the break, Kevin Walters' side steeled themselves and came out on fire. And while it Munster, Cherry-Evans and a suddenly assertive Kalyn Ponga who took all the plaudits, it was their forwards who ultimately got the job done.
Jai Arrow, Josh Papalii, Josh McGuire and Felise Kaufusi were fierce, constantly rushing off their line with speed and putting the entire NSW pack on the back foot from their first defensive set of the second half.
And they did not let up. Not once.
They kept rushing, stymieing any NSW go-forward and not letting them win in the ruck.
That of course stopped dynamic and speedy NSW dummy-half Damien Cook from getting over the advantage line, while at the other end of the park the Maroons were absolutely able to do so.
It's a stat that is entirely measurable and was hit on in the play-the-ball speeds of both sets of forwards.
The Queensland forwards were playing the ball on average between one and two tenths of a second quicker than their NSW counterparts.
Maroons interchange forward David Fifita averaged just 2.88 seconds per play-the-ball. Blues prop Paul Vaughan was the slowest, averaging 3.86 seconds per effort.
And in fact that gap would have been even bigger if Maroons forward Napa had not taken an unusually high 3.7 seconds per play-the-ball.
It may not seem like much, but those tenths of seconds are enough to give each team the time to set a defensive line and rush up.
That forward dominance came in large part once NSW coach Brad Fittler took Newcastle star David Klemmer off the park and kept him there, despite 51 minutes where he established a NSW pack high of 149m gained and 30 tackles - made at 97 per cent efficiency.
The platform that Klemmer set was similar to the one he has set for Newcastle half Pearce at club level, where Pearce's five consecutive man-of-the-match performances would not have come without the dominance of the Knights' pack.
At Origin level that will also be true - Queensland won this one behind their pack and their dominance of the ruck, and come game two that is what NSW will have to change if their halves, no matter who they are, are to have any chance.
If the Blues are to make any changes perhaps they should be to the forward pack. Angus Crichton, despite being great at the play-the-ball speed, was hardly sighted and in 51 minutes made just eight carries.
Payne Haas was also disappointing in his Origin debut, giving away one silly penalty and also making just nine carries in a half of football.
Crichton may have been there last year but he is a fringe player, and Haas showed while he is a physical specimen, at 19 he is not yet ready for this level.
Perhaps the pair who missed out, Ryan Matterson and Victor Radley, might be better options for game two, or even going to the tried and tested well of someone like Bulldogs prop Josh Jackson.
KEY FORWARD PLAY-THE-BALL SPEEDS
Qld: Jai Arrow 2.9 secs, Josh Papalii 3.32, Felise Kaufusi 3.21, Matt Gilett 3.61, Josh McGuire 3.59, Joe Ofahengaue 3.14, Dylan Napa 3.7, David Fifita 2.88
Average = 3.29 seconds
NSW: David Klemmer 3.66 secs, Paul Vaughan 3.86, Boyd Cordner 3.34, Tyson Frizell 3.81, Jake Trbojevic 3.3, Payne Haas 3.48, Cameron Murray 3.04, Angus Crichton 2.9
Average = 3.43 seconds
*Stats courtesy NRL.com