NSW even up the series, winning 44-12 at Optus Stadium (Image: NRL)

NSW even up the series, defeating Queensland 44-12 in game two of State of Origin. Here are the five biggest takeaways from Sunday night's clash.

In a sold-out Optus Stadium, NSW were able even up the series, defeating Queensland 44-12 in game two.

After a much improved Blues performance, here are the five biggest takeaways from game two of the State of Origin series.

The Crowd

The crowd created a lot of excitement and intensity at the game, with 60,000 people showing up to Optus Stadium.

It seemed to be more of a Blues crowd than a Maroons crowd in Western Australia on Sunday night, with the crowd prepared and ready for the ultimate experience of State of Origin after their first experience in 2019. 

Nathan Cleary

After a disappointing game one, Cleary needed to have a much better performance in game two. After Queensland’s defensive strategy influenced him only a couple of weeks ago, Cleary was better prepared this time around for anything they were going to throw at him.

Brad Fittler’s game plan for him was very structured in game one in Sydney. Where we saw a huge difference was Cleary playing more eyes up and adapting to the defence in front of him. From making brave decisions with his kicks and putting them in spots to kicking before the set was completed multiple times in this game, Cleary was able to test the aggressive defence of Queensland and make them work for metres out of their own half.

Cleary also had a solid passing game on display, with cut-out passes that were spot on.

Nathan Cleary had 24 points (two tries, eight from eight with his goal kicks), 15 kicks totalling 444 metres and ran nearly 100 metres from 12 runs. 

Matt Burton

One of Brad Fittler’s changes was bringing in Matt Burton to make his debut. After big wins and performances against the Eels and Tigers, it was rightfully deserved.

Burton has always naturally had a great boot in his game and game two saw his kicking game perfectly executed. This also allowed the opportunity to take pressure away from Cleary considering he was a big target in game one of the series.

Being part of the Penrith system last year, as well as being centre of the year in a premiership-winning season in 2021, Burton’s off-ball ability and being able to maximise in small windows to catch and throw the football to Brian To’o was extremely beneficial for the Blues victory.

Where did it go wrong from Queensland?

Blues coach Fittler’s problem in game one wasn’t his players, but rather his strategy, something that has not gotten questioned much since becoming an Origin coach.

Using lots of different shapes and line runners was disappointing to see in the first matchup this series, especially considering the versatility and talent from the game one squad. In this game, we saw a lot of tactical changes made by the Blues.

Besides the many changes in the players he brought to Western Australia, Fittler allowed his players to play eyes up and play directly in the present. The cut-out passes, running into open space, and changing direction and speed on the run were instinctive aspects of the game we did not see in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, which is how one of Cleary’s tries, as well as Luai’s and Burton’s tries, were able to be scored.

As much as having different shapes, formations and lines are important in the offence for rugby league, Queensland beat NSW in game one by being able to play eyes-up and seeing their defensive patterns through deception and being unpredictable. 

Where Queensland were not able to capitalise in game two was their poor set executions. Kicking early too often in the set, as well as complete sets in their own half hurt their defence in an 80-minute game, allowing NSW to play in Queensland’s half way too often.

The problem with the eyes-up play they implemented was the way their opportunities were created and executed. This was usually done by bringing in Ponga off-the-ball on the outside or in the line and giving him the ball and run into space, hoping defenders were turned on their side where he would have space open in front of him.

Where there is hope is when Kaufusi scored the first try of the game, where in NSW’s half, Ponga was able to draw the edge defenders out of their spots to open space for his backrower with a short-ball.

Other than that set play, Queensland’s offence was repetitive and no other variables were implemented. If Queensland wants to win game three, along with bringing the intensity to the game, they must utilise their outside backs, allowing them to get touches early in the game and let them create opportunities as well and use their forwards in ball-playing ways. We saw this from the Blues in forwards such as Junior Paulo and Jake Trbojevic, as well as Isaah Yeo.  

Cameron Munster 

After an incredible game one performance, game two was the complete opposite for Munster. NSW played incredible defence, having line speed and covering every opportunity that Munster was able to dominate with in game one.

Munster and how he performs is crucial for this side, especially for game three. Munster is at his best when he wants to get involved and move from side to side and change direction when carrying the ball. It is important that they figure out how to get field position, along with early tackle count kicks and be able to have sets in NSW’s half to be able to improve in game three.

They score their points really well when they’re outside the Blues’ half, and one of the biggest differences in both sides this game was the amount of ball NSW had in Queensland’s half. Although Munster had one of the two tries for Queensland, his influence will need to be much greater if the Maroons are to win the series.

Game three and the series decider will be on Wednesday, July 13th at Suncorp Stadium on Channel 9.

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