Origin made history on Wednesday, with the game moving to the end of the year and it caused a further surprise with the Maroons grabbing victory. All signs ahead of the game were that NSW were going to be too strong for their opponents; this was only further supported by a 10-nil lead at HT. However, the Maroons came out a different team in the second half and played with discipline, to eventually prevail 18-14. With team sharing possession, the Maroon (78%) completed slightly better than the Blues (75%).
It was the mistakes made by the Blues in key attacking positions which hurt them most of all; there was also plenty of noise about the effectiveness of the halves, especially their kicking game. A similar thing happened last year (even the same score line in Game 1) and the Blues will be hoping to improve. In terms of a team performance, they can be pleased in some areas and that should mean they are able to lift in this match. The Blues averaged 8.7m per carry compared with 8.5m for the Maroons, they lead offloads (13 v 11), had more line breaks (4 v 3) and missed fewer tackles (26 v 31). Being forced to make 35 more tackles than their opponents would’ve taken the Blues energy away and the loss of Cameron Murray hurt their bench rotation. With the series on the line, they will definitely need to change a few things if they wish for a different result.
ANZ Stadium, Wednesday 11th November
New South Wales
Coach Fitler has wasted no time in bringing about change to his team with 5 players included in this squad. The most notable is Cody Walker named at 5/8, with Luke Keary dropped; Walker faces a tough task of injecting some variety into their attack. In the forwards, Boyd Cordner has been ruled out for the rest of the series and been replaced in the starting side with Angus Crighton, who came off the bench in Game 1. Payne Haas will start, swapping with Junior Paulo, who shifts back to the bench. Nathan Brown, Isaiah Yeo and Dale Finucane are named on the bench and will add some force when they take the field.
The Maroons were dealt a blow after Game 1, with AJ Brimson ruled out for this fixture. He has been replaced by Valentine Holmes at fullback with the Cowboys recruit playing his first game of Origin in this position. Christian Welch has also been ruled out through injury, replaced in the starting side by Dunamis Lui. Coen Hess is also out due to injury, replaced in the starting side by Jaydn Su’a, who was strong in Game 1 when he came off the bench. Titans player Moeaki Fotuaika fills the vacant bench spot and will make his debut when he takes the field.
This game heads to NSW and statistically, should assist the home team. The Maroons have a horrible 32% record at this ground compared with the Blues 64%. Looking at Game 2 fixtures in the past 5 years, the average margin of victory is 11.2 points, very heavily skewed by the 32-point victory last year to the Blues (all other margins were under 10 points). The Blues have won 3 out of 5 matches, with the Maroons having the home ground advantage on 3 occasions; it must be stated that 2 of those matches were outside the state (Perth 2019 & MCG 2015).
A try has been the first scoring play in 4 out of the 5 matches, with the split 50/50 between the teams. Interestingly, an outside back has always delivered the first try and on two occasions, that has been Valentine Holmes (playing on the wing). Gagai (2016) was also on the wing with Michael Jennings (2015) and Tom Trbojevic (2019) being the two centres to score first for the Blues. The last point to make is that in 3 of the matches, the team which has lost Game 1 has turned the table in Game 2 and captured victory.
In 2019, the Blues lost Game 1 18-14 and, after a few key changes to their team, they then smashed the Maroons 38-6 in Game 2. The odds suggest that history could be about to repeat with the squad given a ‘wake up’ call that this Maroons team is not to be taken lightly. NSW were installed as $1.30 favourites with 9.5 line on offer. Many believe that the Game 1 jitters of the Blues will be overcome ahead of this fixture. It is hard to disagree with that; the surprise element is now removed and the Blues will be aware of what is coming their way. The inclusion of Cody Walker is a positive one for the Blues, he will complement Cleary well and have freedom to roam around the field. The question mark over his kicking game will direct more pressure onto Cleary, but the Blues will surely have discussed that ahead of this game.
The Maroons still have question marks around their outside backs; yet, the performance of Dane Gagai was outstanding. The forwards were good at times, although, the speed of play generated from their ruck needs improvement. Hunt coming off the bench will add this aspect. Still, it is hard to see anything other than a Blues victory. Not only do they appear a better team than their opponents, this is a must win game to keep the series alive. In terms of a margin, the 13+ ($2.25) is still popular but considering that has only happened once in the past 5 Game 2 fixtures. The instability in the NSW spine will also be a cause for concern and therefore, the 1-12 selection is preferred.
The stats are overwhelming that an outside back will deliver the opening points in this match. This was also the case in Game 1, when the Blues shifted the ball from one side of the field to the other with ease. This brings Addo-Carr into contention and, while Tupou was preferred in Game 1, JAC’s position outside Wighton will have its advantages. Staying on the same side of the field for the value investment, with the hope that Wighton will get early possession and room to run. The same theory is also going to be applied to the Maroons. Gagai was outstanding in Game 1 and lifts to another level when he puts this jersey on. Expect the halves to also get him as much ball as possible. If he is not scoring, his winger will be best positioned to receive the rewards of this.
DCE saluted at $11 in Game 1 and he is again a preferred selection should the Maroons grab victory. He is key in moving his team around the field and what he does off the ball does not go unnoticed. For the Blues, Cook was good early but didn’t get full benefit of his forwards. Expect this to be different this week, especially with Walker adding another dimension into the attack and having the defenders cautiously watching where he is moving on the field to link up with his club hooker. They were the preferred selections in Game 1 and the only difference here is the price change.
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