This article was first written and published for The Roar.
New South Wales may have won State of Origin Game 2 by a whopping 38 points to 6, but leading into Game 3 coach Brad Fittler cannot afford to rest on his laurels.
We saw a much improved NSW in Game 2 and they dominated the contest from the outset, even without their best player from Game 1 in David Klemmer.
om Trbojevic was my man of the match and as a NSW fan I’m exceptionally grateful that he was fit for this game.
He was incredible for the Manly Sea Eagles last weekend and I was up on my feet cheering for his first try, which he had no right to score given how much ground he had to cover to reach the ball.
NSW started to dominate during the the final 20 minutes of the first half. They handled the wet and rainy conditions far better than Queensland who struggled to match NSWs intensity.
Tyson Frizell found his place on the edge and NSW certainly benefited from keeping him on the field. Additionally, Dale Finucane was impressive on debut and Josh Addo-Carr and James Tedesco were exceptional.
Queensland really missed Jai Arrow and Joe Ofahengaue in the middle and in my view, Dylan Napa wasn’t up to starting.
Additionally, Jarrod Wallace was a big disappointment and his tackle on James Maloney whilst he was in the air was cowardly. He should pick on someone his own size.
So what happens ahead of Game III?
The big decisions are all ahead of Kevin Walters. Will he do a Fittler and make a raft of changes to his squad after the thrashing NSW gave QLD in this game? Or will he stick solid with the squad that won Game 1? Talk has already started about bringing Cameron Smith back for one more game.
What about NSW?
Following Game 1, I was very critical of Nathan Cleary. Many fans praise his defence, but I look to my backrowers for defence, not my halfback.
But the difference in this game was that he had his Penrith Panthers halves partner James Maloney alongside him.
Before this match, Maloney declared that he wasn’t offended by his omission from the squad for Game I and was very happy to be recalled.
His kicking game and control of the game was something NSW sorely missed in Game 1. In the first half alone, he had 22 touches compared to Cleary’s nine.
If I’m honest, I genuinely don’t think NSW missed him in the second half. NSW are fortunate to have a player as versatile as Wade Graham (who now has more try assists playing in the halves for NSW than Cleary does).
If Fittler is intent on sticking with Cleary (and that’s based on the assumption that he isn’t ruled out following an ankle injury), my view is that Maloney must play alongside him in Game 3.
If Luke Keary or Adam Reynolds had been fit, perhaps we would be having a different conversation, but given the circumstances the halves combination cannot change; unless Fittler’s hand is forced.
There’s only one other change I would consider heading into Game 3.
If Fittler persists with selecting Jack Wighton in his team, he does so on the understanding that he is a player that can either win your side a footy game or lose it for you.
We saw this in Game I with his decision, early in the tackle count, to throw a cut out pass which was intercepted by Dane Gagai who run 90 metres to score.
Wighton’s decision to throw that pass absolutely changed the course of the game, given that when he threw the pass NSW had almost a full attacking set right on QLD’s line and were a man down with Latrell Mitchell in the sin bin.
Had NSW completed that full set, Mitchell would have come back on the field and the match would have been back to an even contest.
Wighton made another crucial error in Game II, interfering with Will Chambers as he pursued a grubber. Despite Chambers grounding the ball after the dead ball line, a penalty try was awarded, given that the referee’s believed that without Wighton’s interference a try would have been scored.
Just on that, I want to remind everyone (particularly Paul Vautin) that for a penalty try to be awarded, the referee needs to be of the opinion that a try would have been scored.
The rule book does not state that the referee needs to be 100 per cent certain.
Freddie has dropped players for much less than this and I wonder whether he will repeat the pattern for Game III.
But given the knives that came out for Fittler following Game I, NSW fans would be delighted with this result and that we now head to ANZ Stadium with a live series.
And just one more thought… there were plenty of people questioning why the NRL decided to move the game to Perth.
With a new record crowd number for Optus Stadium of 59,721, I think the NRL should seriously be considering Perth as the next spot for expansion. The appetite for the game is certainly there.