State of Origin II wrap including Mitchell Moses, Michael Maguire, New South Wales heroics

Mike Meehall Wood
New South Wales

Rugby league is a complicated game, but it can seem very, very simple.  

Play the game at the right end, don’t make mistakes, cash in. Alternatively, struggle to get out, gift the ball away, get smashed. Realistically there’s not much more to be said about Game 2 of State of Origin than that.

For the opening half hour, New South Wales did the latter, Queensland the former. Duly the score was 22-0. It was 34-0 at half time, the biggest half time lead in the history of the series. It would end 38-18.

The Blues had scored four times in 27 minutes, but even that doesn’t go close to telling the story. They’d had 17 sets to seven and 36 tackles in opposition territory to just four in their own. They even won a Captain’s Challenge.

Queensland hadn’t really done that much wrong, but that’s how the game went. The Maroons seemed powerless to stop anything happening around them.

Referee Ashley Klein slammed them with two set restarts, resulting 16 consecutive tackles in their own red zone before Liam Martin finally broke through. From that it came like a wave: Brian To’o twice, Zac Lomax twice and Latrell Mitchell.

Remember that simplicity. It was a bit more than that.

As much as the weight of possession and position tilted the odds in NSW’s favour, the way they spotted up the men in the Queensland line showed the smarts that came with the addition of Mitchell Moses and the better allocation of effort from Game 1.

That Martin try showed it. The backrower charged through Tom Dearden, the Maroons stand off, who had already made multiple tackles in the set. They knew what they were doing and where they were going.

Later in the half Mitchell, another returnee, scored after a similar effort on Daly Cherry-Evans, the halfback, who had been isolated in the line by a spinning Angus Crichton.

It was a second such incident in the first half and part of a clear plan thought up by Michael Maguire, who has made an art form out of ambushes of this exact move.

His Kiwis side pulled the Kangaroos’ pants down late last year in similar fashion, taking a scalpel to their best laid plans.

As an assistant at Canberra last year, he devised opposition analyses that saw the Raiders win 13 games, 12 of them tight, making the finals with a negative points differences. He was their marginal gain.

When he was a week-to-week coach at NRL level, it often looked like the game had passed Maguire by, but as a reader of opponents and designer of game plans, there are few better.

That aspect of Game 1 was never allowed to materialise as a result of the early sending off of Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii.

Perhaps, had it remained 13-on-13, there might have been a masterplan then. Given the personnel and performance, it doesn’t seem likely, but the red card ended that discussion before it started.

Instead, Queensland weren’t asked any questions and came up with a fair few answers anyway. This time around, they got posed plenty and had nothing.

So were they any good in Game 1? A few sages north of the Tweed had suggested as much, and on the evidence of this, they might have had a point.

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The Maroons were undone by an excellent Blues, but they shouldn’t have been surprised that their opponents would come fired up and certainly shouldn’t have folded as they did.

Queensland have built a mythology on resilience, but even that has its limits when asked to defend so much.

Prior to the pressure accumulating, they were already losing the ruck and being forced into infringements. Klein just blew what he saw.

Cameron Murray, also recalled, was at the heart of it. His is one of the quickest play the balls in the game, as does Jake Trbojevic, and the rest flowed from there.

Moses played on the front foot, showing just what he can do when the ball arrives to him quickly and with room to move into.

The Parra half’s ability to control direction, pick numbers and kick with intelligence showed why choosing him over Nicho Hynes was the right choice from Maguire.

As a result of Moses’ organisation, the edge forwards were able to run hard at halves, the centres got the service, the wingers scored the tries.

To’o’s second told the whole story. With Mitchell taking an age to play the ball, Moses sized up the defensive numbers, saw Reece Walsh on the long side, ran quickly to the short and slipped a kick into empty space.

The fullback saw it coming and sprinted to where he knew the ball would end up, but even the fastest player on the field was slower than the halfback’s thought.

Rugby league, eh. It’s a simple game – if you apply the right level of complexity.

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