The Maroons take the lead in the 2023 State of Origin series after defeating the Blues 26-18 at Adelaide Oval. The Inner Sanctum takes a look at the five most important takeaways from the first game of the series.
High penalty count
Discipline was a lacklustre aspect of this game, with the referee blowing the whistle for 14 penalties.
The NRL has had penalties creeping back into the game at club level and even with the six-again rule, both state teams were willing to be ill-disciplined to conserve energy, have small breaks and slow down the momentum, testing the half-field sets crossing the halfway line.
Where Queensland thrived the most was their set starts from penalties, building up yardage and field position in transition due to the penalties conceded by New South Wales.
Where the Maroons capitalised in the first half was scoring in the set that was created due to the penalties conceded.
The try set up by Cameron Munster’s grubber kick on the left third to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow was scored in the 7th minute. This opened up the scoring and revealed their opponent’s defensive habits, with players not rushing in scramble defence and not disrupting the space Queensland’s line runners continued following through.
The Maroons continued to be labelled as the ‘underdogs’ and yet, proved again the difference between both sides down the stretch of games.
In the first half, Tom Gilbert went down with a dislocated shoulder, and Queensland had to shuffle around the rotations and defensive line with 60 minutes to go.
Reuben Cotter received the man of the match award, shuffling to Gilbert’s spot in the back-row, collecting 48 tackles and running 84 metres in extended playing time that he usually would not have with everyone healthy.
The Maroons would also play ten minutes without David Fifita, losing a big body when the Blues were rolling in the first half.
With almost ten minutes to go, Thomas Flegler was sent to the bin after making a shoulder charge tackle on Tom Trbojevic that created a category-one concussion.
Murray Taulagi went off with an HIA and Selwyn Cobbo suffered an injury to his hip, putting their team in new defensive spots and playing guys in positions they have never played in their career, with Ben Hunt and David Fifita defending at both centre spots to finish the game.
This origin game is another one in the history books that saw Queensland play with guts and a spirit that is evident wearing the Maroons jersey.
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Brad Fittler’s adjustments
The history of selections and coaching adjustments during the game is continuing to be red alert concerning Brad Fittler’s time as coach of the NSW Blues.
Only using six of the eight interchanges, Fittler struggled to implement his experienced forward pack off the bench with the exception of Liam Martin, who became their spark on both sides of the ball.
Cameron Murray played 50 minutes and struggled to produce yardage, only obtaining 12 runs on 104 metres, with 28 post-contact metres.
Payne Haas who is one of the most conditioned and fit front rowers in the game played 50 minutes when he has been able to play 70 minutes at club level.
Junior Paulo only played 30 minutes off the bench, and in that time, NSW was +12 controlling the middle and defending at a high level.
The substitutions that Fittler made during the game started in the 19th minute, with Liam Martin coming on for Tevita Pangai Junior. Pangai would only play eight more minutes after starting on debut, showing that the debutants that Fittler went with performed poorly and below expectations.
Cameron Murray would sub on in the 30th minute and finish the game for Hudson Young, meanwhile, Payne Haas and Junior Paulo would swap for each other at the same time.
Eleven minutes into the second half, Pangai would return for eight minutes, subbing on for Paulo before Payne Haas would return with 20 minutes left in the game.
NSW’s final substitution was in the 68th minute when Trbojevic was concussed and was replaced by debutant Nicho Hynes. Not using the Dally M Medallist until an injury occurred hurt not only the Cronulla Sharks halfback but also the Blues in the most important ten-minute period of the game.
The lack of trust and faith Brad Fittler has in his players, not maximising them at their best was evident in this game, as well as his strategy going haywire and not being able to be flexible or go to what has historically worked for him in the past was the downfall of the Blues in Adelaide.
NSW spine struggled
The stacked NSW spine continues to struggle to play together.
In today’s game of spacing and defined roles, the Blues have not figured out a way for their fullback, halves and dummy half to combine and create perfect set plays that incorporate all of them in their main goal to score points.
James Tedesco’s running game was not effective against the Maroons, always finding himself running into the line where there were several defenders in the lane. Defensively, he struggled to defend in open space when Queensland broke through the line and when it put kicks behind the line.
Although he played well to his strengths, Tedesco crumbled when being the main playmaker in set plays like the time he did not put through Addo-Carr on the right edge.
The kick chase at the end of the game that allowed Lindsay Collins open space to beat Tedesco showed a huge weakness in his game, which has been the lack of attention in the attacking team’s overloading his ability to calm the game down catching the ball and starting the set with the ball in his hands.
Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary play a predictable game and Queensland read their action plays like a book, shutting down creativity on either side and allowing the Maroons to make second-chance plays to prevent tries.
Cleary’s kicking pattern did not change and kept to his usual kicking style, which let the Maroons have an offensive game where they could use their backline players to build yardage before getting to a set player before they were at the halfway line.
The assist to Liam Martin’s try and kick that led to Stephen Crichton’s try was the only plays the Blues ran against a Maroons defence that made the outside second guess themselves, offering a short ball compared to throwing it out the back to Tedesco and Stephen Crichton.
Api Koroisau’s game at dummy half was hindered, not being able to play from a quick play of the ball and sparking offence around the ruck. Although he scored in a loose ball effort, those moments don’t come around often and the Blues were in the majority of the game simply because they had more opportunities with the ball in their hands.
Small ball game
Queensland has created the ultimate small ball lineup, getting its forwards on either side of the field and allowing Ben Hunt to be a third playmaker in the middle third.
A big problem NSW face is that Isaah Yeo occupies so much of the middle third without ball playing and shifting the ball left or right, making it hard for it to spread the ball to the edge.
NSW have to worry about Ben Hunt, Daly Cherry-Evans, Cameron Munster, and Reece Walsh in the middle third and crossing over to either side of their defence, whereas, Queensland only have to worry about Cleary or Luai receiving the ball, making its defence more focused and straightforward.
Hynes not playing a similar role to Ben Hunt is a huge opportunity that has not been fulfilled in any capacity because Fittler is implementing club-level strategy and tactics to Origin.
Isaah Yeo as a back-rower could still allow Fittler to use him similar to how he is used at Penrith, creating field position, gaining yardage, playing good defence and strategically running lines and into spaces that allow his halves to play their game as the recipient off the back of the drive the forwards make up the field.
Game two will take place on Wednesday, June 21st 8:05 pm AEST at Suncorp Stadium.
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