The 2018 #NRL Pre-season is now complete with a range of results across this evening - some predicte...
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A week on from Origin two, we look at the fall-out from what proved the series levelling game. Where was it won and lost and what team changes are on the cards for game three?
The biggest talking point coming out of game two has of course been where did it all go so wrong for the Blues?
After picking up where they left off in the opening encounter in Brisbane, the Blues despite conceding an early try dominated the opening forty minutes, rolling their big forwards through the middle to have the Queenslanders on tilt. The opening stages of the second stanza looked as though the Blues would continue on their merry way and claim the Origin Shield on their home turf, but following a try out of nowhere to Dane Gagai, stemming from a Josh McGuire line-break, the 2017 series flipped on its head.
It was like a switch flicked inside the Blues players heads at that moment. Suddenly they turned away from what had been working for them for 130 minutes of the series to that point. Their relentless attitude to charge hard through the Maroons middle third ceased and they seemingly lost all sense of direction with the ball in hand.
When all's said and done though, credit has to be given to the Maroons who again refused to give up the fight, again showcasing their famous Queensland spirit. With their backs to the wall, they were being severely outmuscled and were clinging on by the skin of their teeth. When the opportunity arose to claw their way back into the contest, they rose to the occasion and came up with yet another win in the dying minutes.
After dominating for the majority of the series, the key for Coach Laurie Daley is not to panic into making mass changes.
Firstly, expect no changes in the Blues forward pack. Every member of both the starting pack and interchange has provided some level of impact in this series and barring injury or suspension will be tasked with asserting their dominance again in game three.
Coach Daley may do well to consider a slight switch of tactics in starting with David Klemmer and moving Andrew Fifita back to the bench after the game one man of the match was a heavily marked man in game two. Playing him from the bench would allow Daley to unleash him when some of the energy is sapped from the Maroons defenders, whilst it was also noticeable the Blues lost a lot of their dominance through the middle when Klemmer's stint was done. Having him start with Woods up front would allow him to be available for a second stint in the final twenty.
The key mistakes from Hayne were not passing to an unmarked Brett Morris in the first half and his brain explosion no-look flick pass in the second. Despite these errors, don't expect Hayne to be an omission from game three, nor should he after one below par performance at this level. Along with being one of the Blues best in game one, Hayne has given quality service to the sky blue jumper throughout his Origin career.
For Pearce, he again failed to own the moment in the clutch situation and guide his team to victory. Never before had he been afforded such a dominant platform to work off and guide his state to glory and the question must be asked, if he couldn't do it on his home turf how can the Blues expect him to deliver in the furnace of an Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium? Despite this, it's still hard to see a change in the most important position in the team at this stage of the series.
All in all, the Blues 17 men that have taken the park for the opening two games have been that dominant for the majority of the series that they really do deserve the opportunity to finish the job in game three. Someone would have to really being playing the house down to force their way in.
Unfortunately for Maroons fans and Rugby League fans in general for that matter, the most talked about shoulder in the country has succumbed under the pressure of a brutal Origin encounter, ruling the great Johnathan Thurston out for the season. Coach Kevin Walters faces the biggest challenge in his short coaching career to date in coming up with the right man to replace him. If that wasn't a big enough challenge, he'll also need to find a replacement for Darius Boyd at left centre after the versatile backline member suffered a broken thumb in game two. Here's who comes into contention...
JUSTIN O'NEILL - The most recent centre to wear Maroons colours was of course dropped from the team following an average showing in the series opener. Was given a bath by Hayne in that match on both sides of the ball and came up with a crucial error which lead to a Blues try. Hasn't done anything wrong in Cowboys colours since, but hasn't done anything to earn his spot back either... Unlikely.
COREY OATES - The unlucky man to make way for Valentine Holmes debut in game two didn't put a foot wrong in game one scoring a try leaping through the air and provided plenty of tough carries coming out of trouble. The inclusion of Oates would force a major reshuffle across their three-quarter line. Oates would slot in on the left wing, Holmes would move to the right wing, Gagai to right centre and Chambers to left centre... Probably deserves his jumper back, but Coach Walters would be reluctant to cause too many disruptions to his game two winning line-up.
CAMERON MUNSTER - A contender for both the centre and five-eighth role, the game two 18th man appears a strong chance to make his Origin debut somewhere in the Maroons line-up. A strong ball-runner with his determination resulting in a high number of tackle busts each week. Munster has also shown the composure to step-up for the Storm minus their Origin stars in recent weeks and looks ready for a crack at the big stage...The favourite.
COREY NORMAN - After a strong start to the season in Eels colours this year, Norman would have been a strong chance of debuting in Thurston's absence in game one barring an untimely knee injury. Blessed with an all-round silky skill-set, the Eels pivot has good hands, a strong kicking game both long and short and a big body with pace making him a threat whenever he takes the line on. His long left-foot kicks could be just what the Maroons need to kick themselves out of trouble, but Coach Walters will have reservations thrusting him in for a debut in such a crucial role for a series decider... Probably not his time just yet.
CAMERON MUNSTER - As mentioned above, every chance of earning a spot somewhere. Like Norman, the negative is a debut in the spine for a decider. Unlike Norman, Munster has the distinct advantage of playing alongside Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk in club land giving Coach Walters a ready-made spine to work with… A good chance, but probably more likely at centre.
DALY CHERRY-EVANS - At the peak of his powers a few years back, was an automatic selection in the Maroons utility role and appeared next in line to fill Cronk and Thurston's boots when the time came. Contract dramas, a dip in form and the emergence of Michael Morgan at the same time have seen him slip considerably down the pecking order since. A resurgence of form for Manly this year has seen him involved in selection discussions at different stages throughout this year's series and is the most experienced contender to fill a spot in the halves. With Cronk steering the ship and organizing the set plays, it would allow the Manly half to play a more off the cuff role... Probably still has others ahead of him, but could come into discussions as the utility if Morgan starts.
MICHAEL MORGAN - Has served the utility role with aplomb throughout the last three series and came up with the match-winning flick pass to seal the game two win for the Maroons. Despite a slow start to assuming the role of chief play-maker in the absence of Thurston for the Cowboys, has really hit his straps to keep the Cowboys competitive in this year's competition. Wouldn't have to assume that role for Queensland though. With Cronk steering the ship, Morgan could simply play his natural game. Premiership winning five-eighth and deserves his crack at the six jersey... The Favourite.