|Stink: Four players were sent to the sin bin afterf all-in brawl.|
Before Australia decides, a decider. Backs to the wall has never been a particularly fun place for anyone playing Queensland to be, and so the 2013 Blues became the latest to be ambushed by a Queensland side scratching and clawing their way out of a tough situation. Having made so many strides in game one, the Blues have now lost ground dramatically.
When the dust settles from the second-half fight which resulted in four players - Trent Merrin, Greg Bird, Justin Hodges and Brent Tate - being sent to the sin-bin, the outlook is rather bleak for the Blues, as they look to arrest Queensland’s dominance.
For the Blues, this has a worrying similarity to 2008, the last time they took a one-nil lead into a match at Suncorp. They were belted 30-0 in Brisbane in game two that year, and with the Maroons taking the momentum into the decider, they lost the series. It will take some effort by Laurie Daley’s team to turn it around, having scored only a few more points than punches.
Queensland five-eighth Johnathan Thurston, wounded in the first encounter and in hospital the night before the second, was superb. He made life hell for Blues debutant Nathan Merritt, gift-wrapping Darius Boyd’s two tries.
It was set up for Thurston from the start, which was savage.
Having received a penalty from their first set after five-eighth James Maloney stripped the ball from Sam Thaiday, the Queensland forward put himself on the smaller man again less than a minute later, scoring before the Blues had even held the ball. Thaiday liked what he saw, and quickly targeted Maloney again.
The Maroons were enthusiastic and angry, without the sort of illegal revenge tactics that many predicted, hunting as a pack and rushing the Blues into error and ill-discipline. The penalties added up against the Blues, and so too did the points; after 10 minutes, Thurston kicked the Maroons further ahead with a penalty goal.
Blues forwards Paul Gallen and Bird did well to stop Corey Parker from scoring, but their tackle only served to temporarily halt the onslaught. Two minutes later, Thurtson weaved around the Blues defence and then sent Boyd over.
By the 22nd minute, the Maroons had enjoyed 81 per cent of possession. The Suncorp Stadium crowd, also enjoying that glut of possession as well as the scoreboard, were full of voice.
The Blues were able to breathe a little after this stage. The contest settled down and the Blues started to get some ball, even if it was far from quality ball. In defence the Maroons were intimidating.
The Blues were working their way back into the contest but too often they were taking the wide route when they might have been better served muscling through the middle. Prop Andrew Fifita showed the Blues the way yet others failed to follow him.
Gallen, who had given some special Suncorp treatment prior to kick-off by a boisterous crowd, was struggling to take his team forward, and was clearly frustrated by the officials. The Blues’ kicking game, so successful in the first game, wasn’t as effective, giving the Maroons time and space.
The half finished with a 14-0 scoreline in the Maroons’ favour; a reverse of the half-time score in game one.
Suddenly the Blues had not scored a point in 84 minutes of Origin football.
The rot continued in the second half. While the Maroons hit back after half-time in the first match, the Blues were unable to respond like their opponents did three weeks earlier. Eight minutes into the second half, Thurston sent Boyd over with a remarkable ball, taking advantage of Merritt darting in-field.
By then, the Maroons were in charge, and the Blues’ needed to refocus on taking some confidence into the third encounter. Fullback Billy Slater’s elbow on half Mitchell Pearce, which was placed on report, resulted in a minor melee, with both sides showing some restraint not to throw punches. A minute later, with the temperature rising, a handful lapsed. Merrin threw a punch at Tate, and Hodges and Bird joined them in being marched.
The Maroons kept marching on. Half Cooper Cronk’s kick fell perfectly for a leap from Greg Inglis. The Blues struck last through winger Brett Morris, but it was too little, too late. Before Oz votes, it will be Loz votes. Daley now has some decisions to make. How much can he persist with a side which has scored one try in three halves of football?
Their wonderful first half in game one seems a long time ago now.