NSW satisfy need for speed as Blues run Maroons ragged in State of Origin opener
Speed kills, they say, and after Wednesday night’s events in Townsville, the Queensland Maroons could not argue. On a dry, tight and deadly-fast surface at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium the NSW Blues took Game One of the 2021 State of Origin series thanks to some breakneck rugby league.
The Blues trotted out a “back five” with three fullbacks and two wingers. Coach Brad Fittler had given one of them, Tom Trbojevic, a mandate to be himself and the Manly star was everywhere, a “centre” playing in the middle, doing whatever he liked. He was magnificent. But he wasn’t alone.
The Blues looked the more likely side all night. After terrorising the middle and left edge, Trbojevic went back to this “correct” position on the right and the Blues went with him. The big man steamed over in the 17th minute, a force of nature. Latrell Mitchell on the left has the same elemental air about him; at times the pair can look like men among boys.
Jarome Luai plays like a kid, but has the game of the world’s best six. He fed Mitchell all night, while his friend from Mt Druitt, Brian To’o, scored twice on debut, both tries leaping plants in the left corner.
Christian Welch went cheek-to-cheek with To’o at speed, wobbled and went off. The Melbourne Storm man did not come back, and it proved a huge blow for a Queensland XVII already missing Lindsay Collins and Josh Papali’i. They never recovered.
Speedy play-the-ball did for them. It gifted the Blues space as those three great fullbacks – Mitchell, Trbojevic and James Tedesco – came again and again, and at speed. Their defensive pressure was telling, too.
Fatigue perhaps crept in with Trbojevic playing second fullback on a roving commission and he fell off Kurt Capewell when the Penrith backrower-come-centre sluiced through to make it 20-4. Valentine Holmes nailed a fine conversion, but that was as good as it got for Queensland. They failed to score again.
Pre-match the fear that the game would be adjudicated like an NRL match – pedantically, to the letter of the law – proved baseless as referee Gerard Sutton had a largely anonymous and excellent fixture.
Thus so did the bunker. Such was the pace of the game, it was as if the TV cameras could not keep up, as if the directors did not have opportunity to stop the production and run a high-definition, slow-motion camera over the minutiae of every incidental head knock.
There probably were head knocks, it was just that TV didn’t slow it down and try to find them. And not to get all existential, but given that the entertainment is mostly consumed through the vehicle of TV , if we don’t see it happen and aren’t told about it, it’s like it didn’t happen.
Plus, the players kept it clean. Outside of Kyle Feldt’s report for a shot on Cam Murray, and the odd little dust-up, the game was hard, fast and fair. Cynics and realists had scoffed at Daly Cherry-Evans’s suggestion of a “gentleman’s agreement” that players would not fake injury, yet it came to pass. In the game’s showpiece fixture the gladiators became ambassadors, and turned on an excellent game of rugby league.
Even when Feldt hit Murray, the play continued. And what play it was: Cleary and Luai were involved before Trbojevic, of course, popped a little grubber for his “centre partner” Mitchell who stormed over. Feltd went on report as Cleary converted. It was all Blues.
Liam Martin and Junior Paulo came on. Mitchell was loving his time outside the livewire Laui. The Penrith No 6, in the form of his life, burned them left, found Mitchell who found Trbojevic who went under the posts. Mitchell then went over again. Tedesco bopped about and Trbojevic had a hat-trick. The Blues – too good and too fast – had 50. Speed had been decisive.