20/05/2024

The Blues become the underdogs before game two in Brisbane. (Image: NSWRL)

Queensland had a statement win in Adelaide with less than 13 men on the field for the last ten minutes of the game. Now, New South Wales will take of the herculean task of levelling the series at Suncorp Stadium, needing their best performance under Brad Fittler’s tenure.

The Inner Sanctum will break down everything leading up to the second game of the 2023 State of Origin series.

NSW Blues 

Injuries and replacements

The Blues’ hopes of forcing a decider have been derailed by a number of injuries, seeing two debutants join the seventeen-man squad.

Stefano Utoikamanu and Reece Robson will be backing up experienced players in their respective positions off the bench.

Stefano Utoikamanu will likely replace Payne Haas or Junior Paulo to bring in energy and provide some extra physicality in the middle third of the field. 

Nathan Cleary was ruled out for the series after going down against the Dragons with a hamstring injury and Api Koroisau suffered a fractured jaw against the Titans two weeks ago.

Damien Cook was the easiest replacement for the vacant dummy half spot, though replacing Cleary’s halfback role proved more troubling for selectors.

Mitchell Moses was ultimately selected, after having a great game on the King’s birthday against the Bulldogs to prove he was worthy of the selection over reigning Dally M medallist Nicho Hynes.

Latrell Mitchell has been ruled out after initially being selected for game two, and is set to be replaced by Stephen Crichton who was promoted from 18th-man into the team. Matt Burton will return to being the 18th man as he was in game one. 

Must-needed performance from Moses

A lot of pressure is on the NSW Blues, specifically, Mitchell Moses ahead of the must-needed win to even the series.

Moses will have the chance to prove himself under the bright lights, after having doubts on his performance under pressure in the past.

His kicking game and wide ball movement is a must, in order to get his teammates involved is a must in order to contest the Maroons’ quality team.

In the lead-up to his selection, the 28-year-old had been showcasing a career-best year, taking over games with his running ability and kicking strategy, as well as creating plays for his teammates to score.

If he’s going to guide New South Wales to the series-levelling win, Moses will need to adjust to the fast defensive line speed and ruck play, both aspects he struggled with in his Origin debut two years ago.

Potential Swaps

There are reports the Blues will invert their wingers for game two, meaning Josh Addo-Carr will start on the left and Brian To’o will play on the right. Giving them the comfort and familiarity of their club-level positions.

Either way, one of the two will match up against Xavier Coates, a taller winger with a strong vertical who is a dangerous aerial threat.

Addo-Carr takes on the Melbourne winger with this switch, which is a better matchup for the Blues.

As the Maroons’ attack picks up pace crossing the halfway line, Addo-Carr’s speed provides better coverage in transition should Coates break through.

There is also speculation that Reece Robson will start instead of Damien Cook, which would offer better flexibility for Damien Cook’s offensive spark later in the game.

After the Blues went with Api Koroisau as the only dummy half in game one, this change also offers Robson to play the small-ball middle if needed for faster around-the-ruck play. He can also back up Damien Cook if he decides to take off from dummy-half when Queensland is not tight defensively and on the back foot.

Play-style

Expect the Blues to look drastically different to their usual play style with Nathan Cleary, Latrell Mitchell and Api Koroisau all out of the lineup.

It is crucial that Moses initiates the ball movement to get the team involved, especially best friend and fullback James Tedesco.

Tedesco’s support play and middle third attack will be needed to drag in the Queensland defence in order for the Blues to blitz the edges with specific side ball movement.

The Eels’ halfback has an elite running game on the short side for creative grubber kicks and two-on-one play initiating. However, Origin has fast defence line speed, as well as overload coverage on kickers like Moses, who has specialised his patented kick down the field that requires space and a big leap of power.

Most importantly, the Blues’ defence cannot struggle in this game.

New South Wales had defensive struggles in game one, particularly with last-play defence and early ball play and movement.

The bench is being put in a position to change the game and free the pressure the Blues might face in the opening twenty minutes of the game.

Effort and attitude, as well as footy IQ and awareness, need to be on display for the entirety of the 80 minutes going up against the Maroons side which has not changed its core.

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Queensland Maroons 

Injuries and replacements

The Maroons had to make changes with Tom Gilbert, Jai Arrow and Selwyn Cobbo all carrying significant injuries.

Jeremiah Nanai will start in the back row as Moeaki Fotuaika starts on the bench, playing for the first time since the 2021 series. Xavier Coates comes straight in for Selwyn Cobbo.

Coach Billy Slater has continued his experienced and youth mix excellently, with Nanai being a proven player in his rookie season on the Origin stage, balancing his offensive skillset and defensive effort.

With his off-ball ability, Nanai often finds himself in the landing space for cross-field kicks and his running game will be an intriguing element in the match when the ball shifts right.

Fotuaika is playing his best footy this season, rising up to the potential he was projected to have when he came into the league.

Yardage and completing sets are very important for the Maroons, and the newly added forwards will help drive them up the field as they battle for field position, which was crucial when both teams had strong stretches in Adelaide.

Play-style

Expect the Maroons to play a similar style to how they played in Adelaide. 

The core and majority of the team from game one are playing in Brisbane. All Billy Slater would like to see them really improve in, is tidying up their try-line defence and slowing down the pace of the Blues as they cross the 50-metre line and pick up momentum.

Defending Moses is not an easy job, as he is starting to play and read the game at a higher level. Improving his short-side running game and drawing the front rowers up to try to cover him.

As long as they rush him and occupy the space he likes to play with, the Blues will stick to their half-field and red zone ball movement, which is a lot more structured and spreading the ball from the middle third to either side.

Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt and Daly Cherry-Evans will most likely mix up the ball movement and incorporate the kicking game earlier in their sets, when yardage is harder to obtain.

The half-field and red zone play will be utilised more, with Coates being able to play the high flyer wing game. Trying to take advantage of the height and vertical mismatch in their favour, they can cross-kick to the tall winger if they don’t outnumber the players on the opposite edge.

Game 2 will be at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday 21st of June at 8:05 pm only on Channel Nine.

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