Hands up those who think Johnathan Thurston can't possibly be as quiet in Game Two on Wednesday night as he was in Queensland's loss in the series opener? Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Is it time? Are the NSW Blues finally going to break Queensland’s seven-year dominance? After their 14-6 triumph in Game One, the Blues now get two chances to snap the streak – but you can bet your bottom dollar they want it done sooner rather than later. They haven’t even dreamed of winning the series 3-0 at this stage but such a feat would certainly help ease just a little of the sting after being whipping boys for so long.
To do so they need to go to Brisbane and get the job done on enemy turf. Is it as simple as playing the same game they did in Sydney to get the result? Unfortunately for Laurie Daley’s boys, the statistics scream: “Hell no!”
The reality is NSW could easily have been on the other end of the result. They will need to improve if they are going to bring joy to what some wags have been calling ‘the barren state’.
Prior to Game One, Stats Insider suggested the key to beating the Maroons might be limiting Greg Inglis and Cameron Smith, more than others. Despite featuring in the lone Maroons try, Inglis was rarely sighted, being credited with just 10 carries for 57 metres (he usually carves out about 168 metres for Souths from 11 runs from fullback).
Smith wasn’t his usual nimble self around the ruck either – but the glaring inadequacy of the night was Johnathan Thurston. He was clearly below his best with a groin issue and off the pace just enough to allow the Blues’ defence to cover. He won’t be quiet this time around.
Compounding their woes the Maroons forwards were dominated. That will sting them. They will be out for revenge. And with Josh Papalii now in the mix they have some extra bite.
The Blues made 14 errors in the opening game compared to the Maroons’ nine.
Michael Jennings may have scored a cracking try in the game but he won’t want to come up with four errors again.
The completion rates were 71 per cent for the Blues (30 of 42) and 83 per cent for the Maroons (30 of 36).
Usually if you give up the ball to Queensland they will punish you. You can be sure if NSW disrespect possession at Suncorp, they will be put to the sword.
What saved the Blues three weeks ago was their go-forward. They won the territorial battle 1528 metres to 1389 metres. It is the biggest stat they will want to replicate.
Now-injured fullback Jarryd Hayne contributed 188 metres, so his replacement Josh Dugan is going to need to come up with something similar… considering he is averaging 202.8 metres in his five games with the Dragons so far, it’s fair to think he will get the job done.
Sacked winger Blake Ferguson contributed 112 metres – replacement Nathan Merritt averages 83.2 this year for the Rabbitohs. He needs to offer more.
Sacked prop James Tamou tallied just 52 metres in Game One, so perhaps Aaron Woods – who leads the Wests Tigers with 138 metres a game – can improve the numbers.
Paul Gallen (188 metres) and Luke Lewis (176 metres) were the big metre-earners for the Blues, while Greg Bird (105 metres) and Anthony Watmough (107 metres) also cracked the ton.
On the other side of the coin, only one Queensland forward, Nate Myles, cracked triple figures (with 113).
It was left to Billy Slater (204), Justin Hodges (132) and Brent Tate (139) to get the Maroons rolling early in their sets through kick returns and dummy-half runs.
Queensland have since complained about offside markers stunting their go-forward through Smith – although it’s worth noting they still had 22 dummy-half runs compared to the Blues’ 13 and made 195 metres compared to 94. So they weren’t completely negated, even if their gripe had some substance.
The Blues will also have to do better defensively at shutting down the ball. They may have tallied fewer missed tackles, with 21 to 28 – but the ineffective tackle count was 22 for the Blues and just seven for the Maroons. In part this helped the Queenslanders to win the offloads 13-4 and if they get similar numbers again with a healthy Thurston and co heading for a retreating Blues defence, the tries will be aplenty.
The wash-up is simple. The Blues must improve on Game One if they are to stop the Queensland juggernaut once and for all, because you can bet all the bananas, cane toads and sugar cane in Queensland the Maroons will be much better on Wednesday.