Gallen’s punches made a statement
Paul Gallen’s fight with Nate Myles in Origin I was a case of the NSW captain saying ‘enough is enough’. From where I was on the sideline we could hear the Blues complaining about Myles using his head as a weapon. Gallen was also saying his knee was being wrenched in the tackle so he obviously took it upon himself to make a statement for his team. From the referees’ point-of-view, I thought Gallen could have got 10 minutes in the bin, but it is Origin and it’s obviously refereed differently to the NRL.
I think the Maroons are going to make changes for game two. Josh Papalii will come into the team and they also need someone with some speed and footwork. I thought their bench, Ben Te’o, Matt Gillett and Corey Parker really lifted the tempo of the Queensland pack but I think they’ll want to get some young legs in there.
The big worry for the Queenslanders is Johnathan Thurston, who carried a groin injury into the game. He didn’t kick for goal, which says to me that it must be really bad. I carried a similar injury for 18 months in the late 1990s and it’s one of the worst you can have. It looks as if Thurston will face a fitness battle to continue his record run of consecutive Origin matches and if he isn’t fit for game two then Daly Cherry-Evans will obviously come in there rather than on the bench. One thing’s for sure, you can’t doubt the courage of the Queensland five-eighth, who was still competing right to the end despite having to contend with both the groin injury and a rampaging Luke Lewis.
If Queensland are to strike back, it’s obviously crucial that Greg Inglis gets more ball. There were times in that second half where they just threw him the ball with nothing on and he created one try and looked dangerous at other times. I have no doubt that he and Billy Slater will swap positions a little bit in game two because he’s just an absolute freak of nature. Inglis wasn’t getting as much ball because Queensland were getting dominated by the Blues in the ruck. It will be a different story in the second game, the Maroons forwards will come out breathing fire and their outside backs will get more room to move.
If I had Inglis outside me and there were any quick play-the-balls it would just be a matter of catching the ball and throwing it to him with support players either side. It’s virtually impossible to stop him offloading if he gets one-on-one with any defender. There wouldn’t be any structure to the play, it would just be a matter of getting him the ball and saying ‘here we are Greg, do something’.
Any talk that the age of the Maroons’ side is catching up with them is well wide of the mark. I think they got caught on the hop, with NSW ambushing them in the first 20 minutes. In league, I believe you hit your peak between the ages of 26 and 30 and that’s where a lot of these Maroons players are. There’s no doubt they’ll be smarting from the loss and be a totally different team at Suncorp Stadium for game two.
There were some really good signs in the win for NSW, but two of the Blues stood out for me. Luke Lewis was deservedly man-of-the-match after delivering one of the great Origin performances, but I don’t think anyone has epitomised Origin like Greg Bird has for the Blues in recent years. You hear the comment, ‘he’s an Origin player’ and that sums up Greg Bird. He’s someone that can be relied on to come up with the big plays in the key moments.
I thought Mitchell Pearce’s performance showed great maturity. Lewis got man-of-the-match and troubled Thurston all night but Pearce was the man getting him one-on-one with the Maroons five-eighth.
NSW’s debutants also performed brilliantly. James Maloney was solid, he took the line on, kicked for goal well and did his job. I thought Blake Ferguson was really strong and Andrew Fifita was a revelation. Hopefully they will only get better and better.