YOU’VE gotta love rugby league. What other sport in the space of three weeks could depose its chief executive, have the referees bosses facing the sack and carry on a slanging match between its highest-profile rep coaches, yet rush onwards over what are seemingly little more than speed bumps?
While it is sometimes easy to be blinkered when assessing the present compared to the past, I honestly can’t remember an Origin match that has carried so much controversy, conjecture and outright angst than the opening Melbourne encounter has done going into tonight’s clash.
Obviously the moving on of David Gallop was not a direct result of that game, but the timing only added to the snowball of drama.
There have been casualties. Two of the officials – referee Matt Cecchin and video ref Sean Hampstead – have been dumped and replaced by the highly experienced duo of Tony Archer and Steve Clark.
This is despite the fact that they apparently received pass marks after the opening encounter.
I do feel for Hampstead, who has been made the scapegoat for allowing the Greg Inglis try that Bill Harrigan went to great lengths to defend. It still didn’t save him.
NSW coach Ricky Stuart felt the need to call in an independent analyst to dissect the first-game loss in what I believe to be an unprecedented move.
Apparently he found 10 different incidents which he determined should have led to Blues penalties yet went unpunished.
In comparison, the only incident the Blues got away with, according to the analyst, was Hayne punching Johnathan Thurston after a tackle in the opening minutes.
Part of the build-up to every Origin game is the banter that goes on between the states, and generally this has been pretty predictable and reasonably good natured. It has usually involved the word “passion” fired between the camps. In the lead-up to tonight’s game there seems to have been a much harder edge in the statements made by the coaches.
I’m somewhat disappointed that it has degenerated the way it has. Origin has always thrived on the “hate” element, but this was always a little bit of smoke and mirrors and never quite personal.
Mal Meninga has said the Blues don’t have the “mentality” to win Origin matches.
He said that Queensland would never blame referees for a loss, and that their way would be to put their hand up and say that they needed to play better.
This barb may well have been aimed at Ricky Stuart or the NSW press, but it also encapsulates the Blues players – and that is unfortunate.
I have no doubt that they know it was their own errors that proved so costly in the opening encounter.
I’m also sure that they realise they did cop some tough calls against them in that game, and that you still have to be good enough to overcome such obstacles.
I’m yet to hear any of them blame the referees for their defeat. In reply Ricky has written that he has “had a gutful of Queensland’s smugness and their fake graciousness in victory”.
Again, this would have been a sweeping statement until going on to talk about players returning to their clubs between Origins and letting their guard down.
I’m not quite sure what he means by this because there is no elaboration, but it certainly implies that this is where the Queensland players apparently carry something of a superior attitude.
This is obviously an interpretation of what Ricky wrote, but I would be absolutely stunned if the majority of Maroons didn’t enjoy their success yet still showed the suitable amount of humility. I find it hard to believe that it is a case of only “some genuinely are humble”. They are an outstanding squad of players who have achieved a remarkable run of success. If they are in any way big-headed about what they have done they have certainly kept it well hidden from the general public.
As for the sides taking the field tonight, they were never going to be very different after the respective efforts in game one.
Front-rower Tim Grant has always looked a likely prospect and it was only a lengthy stint on the sideline with injury that added some surprise to his selection.
Both he and fellow prop James Tamou have the attraction of being huge men but particularly hard for the opposition to get a good shot on.
Following the injury to Tony Williams, Anthony Watmough did look the most likely to earn a recall and would also have been aided by the performance of Greg Bird.
He really troubled the Maroons with his explosiveness and quick feet at the defensive line.
Watmough plays a very similar game. I like the new look with Paul Gallen dropping to the back row and not needing to necessarily play the full 80 minutes, especially if his knee continues to give him grief.
There is plenty of potential game time now off the bench with Watmough, Creagh and Lewis all used to going the distance at club level.
I’m not convinced that Queensland will start tonight with the side initially nominated.
Corey Parker comes in for the injured Sam Thaiday, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Maroons opt for him to run on and leave Dave Taylor as a big gun off the bench.
Another potential option is David Shillington preferred as a starting prop to Petero Civinoceva, who struggled with the movement of the opening 20 minutes in Melbourne but looked much more effective in his second stint.
However the only certainty tonight is that it will be a case of getting to your next kick and not giving away penalties.
The final word goes to my sometimes Channel 9 work colleague Terry Kennedy, who before game one said the last thing we would be talking about after the match would be the referees.
I’ve sounded him out about after tonight’s game and he thinks this time it will be the long-term friendship between Mal and Ricky.
It looks like their relationship may really be doomed.
- Sterlo can be heard with David and Tanya every Friday at 7.20am on 102.9 KOFM