Series: PREVEW: 2022 State of Origin II
The games' greatest spectacle heads to Perth for the second time in State of Origin history with Queensland holding the upper hand as they look to secure a series victory this Sunday at Optus Stadium.
New South Wales have plenty of work to do after an exhilarating opening game to the series which saw Queensland secure a 16-10 point victory on the back of some excellent ad-lib football. It was an extremely intense and hard-fought battle, but Billy Slater's men proved to have done their homework on the large Penrith contingent that made up the New South Wales side as the trio of Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo found it difficult to put their stamp on the game. Queensland did this through the use of an aggressive defensive line that looked to shut them down as quickly as possible whenever the ball was in their hands. In particular, Queensland's kick pressure was excellent all night, making Cleary's job extremely difficult as he rarely found himself with adequate time to kick. The inclusion of Matt Burton for Game II may help combat this as he offers another kicking option alongside Cleary who was responsible for 20 of the 23 kicks (that weren't grubbers) for the match.
Despite Queensland's ability to stifle the Penrith contingent in Game I, the New South Wales Blues selectors have doubled down on their commitment to the Penrith juggernaut, with Stephen Crichton and Apisai Koroisau being named to start this time round, bringing the total number of current Penrith players in the starting 13 to seven. This could work to New South Wales advantage as Koroisau's combination with Cleary and Luai should theoretically make their jobs easier as they are more than comfortable with the tendencies of Koroisau's play and his service out of dummy-half than that of Damien Cook. It'll be Koroisau's first start in a Blues jumper, after making his debut off the bench in Game III last season, pushing Cook to the bench.
The inclusions of Koroisau and Burton for Game II aren't the only changes to the New South Wales squad with Jake Trbojevic, Siosifa Talakai (debut) and Angus Crichton being named in the 17 at the expense of Kotoni Staggs, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Ryan Matterson, Tariq Sims and unfortunately Jack Wighton, who will miss out due to contracting COVID-19 after an excellent performance in Game I.
North of the border, the Queenslanders will be confident that they can wrap the series up in Perth before heading home to Brisbane for Game III. The Maroons made the most of their opportunities in the opening game of the series and seemed to pose more players that broke the game wide open. Their bench, consisting of Harry Grant, Lindsay Collins, Patrick Carrigan and Jeremiah Nanai did so when they were introduced during the first half. Grant and Carrigan entered the match at roughly the same time and were immense in changing the tide of the game after the Blues struck early with a Wighton try in the 14th minute. From there, it was the Queenslanders who looked most likely and in particular, Cameron Munster who secured his second man of the match award in his 14-game Origin career with an outstanding performance.
Munster was backed by some excellent performances by Queensland debutants in teenager Selwyn Cobbo and Reuben Cotter who showed that the Origin stage isn't too big for either of them as the former came up with a highlight play for the Maroons first try and the latter put in his usual hard-working 80-minute performance which we've seen plenty of times this season for the Cowboys. The whole Queensland 17 will have to be up for the battle once again and Billy Slater will make sure of this as he looks to secure a series win in his first coaching stint of his career.
Unlike the Blues, the Maroons have made only two changes, both being necessary as Xavier Coates and Reuben Cotter will miss Game II after suffering injuries and they have been replaced by Murray Taulagi (debut) and Jai Arrow in the 17.
Who to watch: Honestly, all 34 players in this match could have an impact on the game as is the nature of State of Origin, but two in particular come to mind. Firstly, New South Wales fullback and captain James Tedesco will be a key player in Game II as they try and keep the series alive. Tedesco, one of the best fullbacks in the game, seems to save his best performances for the Origin arena. Game I was no exception as the Roosters fullback accumulated 291 run metres and 80 post contact metres from just 24 carries of the football. Tedesco also proved to be a handful for Queensland defenders, breaking the line on one occasion and busting through eight tackles. Arguably one of New South Wales' best fullbacks in Origin history, Tedesco has scored seven tries, assisted a further 13 and averaged 209.1 running metres in his 17-game Origin career.
Secondly, on the opposing team, Game I's man of the match, Cameron Munster will once again be pivotal to a Queensland victory. In his excellent performance in Game I, Munster accumulate 198 running metres, broke seven tackles, completed 22 tackles and made one line break. His main highlight came in the 47th minute as he broke through New South Wales' line on the back of some individual brilliance which left New South Wales defenders grasping at him. The Maroons scored just a minute later. The former Wally Lewis Medallist is in red hot form at the moment and has played a big part in Melbourne's success so far this season having scored seven tries, assisting a further 12 and averaging 129.9 running metres, his most per game since moving into the halves. These brilliant players are two of the best in the game and they'll get another chance on the biggest stage of all to showcase their talents.
The favourite: New South Wales enter Game II as the favourites despite losing to the Queenslanders in the opening game in Sydney. Optus Stadium, which has hosted only one Origin match in the past was won convincingly by New South Wales in 2019, a match with the exact same stakes on the line. Queensland won Game I by four-points that and went on to lose the two following games. Will the same play out this year? Or will Queensland win their 23rd State of Origin title.
My tip: I'm hoping for another exhilarating clash between the two rival states in Perth, whilst I think this will be another close match, New South Wales have my tip to win and take it to a series decider in hostile Brisbane. New South Wales by 6.