State of Origin II: Five Key Points
A powerful performance from NSW squared the Origin series in front of a record crowd and sent the series to a decider. Here are five talking points from the Blues' 26-18 win.
Blues halves make a stride towards silencing critics
It will take more than one good game to banish the critics of Mitchell Pearce and Trent Hodkinson but each played their roles well. Pearce set up a try with a pinpoint cross-field bomb and Hodkinson the match-winner with a great ball to fullback Josh Dugan late in the game.
In between both kicked strongly and controlled the attack well and helped NSW back into the game when it looked like momentum was turning against them in the early stages of the second half.
"They were outstanding, just what we know they can do," Blues coach Laurie Daley said after the game.
"Like I said last time people are quick to jump in. Trent wins an Origin series last year, we lose Game One by a point and people want to kick him. Both will be there in Game Three."
NSW start to play some footy
The 26 points and four tries racked up by a NSW side suddenly intent on spreading the ball left and right was their highest score in an Origin since a 28-16 win in 1999. Left centre Michael Jennings, a noted speedster, capitalised on getting some early ball to notch seven first-half tackle breaks, the opening try and the Man of the Match award.
Their series win last year was built on simple one-out footy and a titanic effort from fullback Jarryd Hayne but the Blues needed to evolve and to the credit of Daley and his men they did. They learned their lessons from Game One and it paid dividends.
"We knew coming into this game it wasn't so much Queensland beating us in the first one, we sort of beat ourselves by not taking the opportunities that arose in Game One, so we played a bit more footy and exploited the opportunities this game and it suited us nicely," Hodkinson said after the game.
Blues went after DCE
It was an obvious tactic but it certainly proved to be an effective one as the Blues smashed into new Queensland halfback Daly Cherry-Evans at every opportunity. DCE was forced to make 29 tackles in the game with Ryan Hoffman in particular honing in on the talented playmaker.
His enormous workload in defence left him with little in the tank at the other end and he was unable to replicate the mercurial performance of Game One hero Cooper Cronk. That drop-off at the halfback position was a key reason why we head to Suncorp Stadium with the series all-square.
GI back to his best
It was the Greg Inglis of old, lighting up the biggest stage of all in front of biggest crowd of them all. He was back to his powerful best, particularly in the first half where he gathered 87 of his 130 run metres as well as a line break and a scintillating try. He came out slowly after half-time though with just seven metres in the 25 minutes following the restart but then he very nearly proved the match-winner.
It may not have counted but electricity of the crowd when G.I swooped on that ball and took it 90 metres was one of the loudest noises you will ever hear in a sporting arena. He also entered the game tied with outside man Darius Boyd on 15 Origin tries; his first-half four-pointer (which came, poetically, from a Boyd pass) moved him one ahead of the Broncos fullback into the outright lead.
Well done Melbourne
They call it the sporting capital and after Wednesday night's spectacle that would be hard to argue with. Melbournians came out in their numbers as 91,513 fans packed the Melbourne Cricket Ground in what was the biggest crowd in State of Origin history. The figure eclipsed the 88,336 that filled ANZ Stadium in Game Two of the 1999 series and the MCG Origin record of 87,161 set in 1994. More than 24,000 travelling fans also made the trip south, further adding to the colour and fever-pitch atmosphere.
If those at NRL HQ wanted to find out whether Victorians were interested in Australian sport's greatest rivalry, we certainly think they got their answer.
"It was great, I think everyone enjoyed being out on such a fantastic ground," Queensland captain Cameron Smith said.
"The crowd were great, they got heavily involved in the match there for the most part of it. It was really great to see such a healthy crowd in Melbourne and that the sport is growing down here."
Paul Gallen was also impressed with the stadium and the size of the turnout.
"It was outstanding, it was unreal, it really was," he said.
"I came here yesterday [Wednesday] for the first time in my life and I was really impressed with it. It's not as big as I thought, it's actually a pretty good rugby league stadium."
This article first appeared on NRL.com