NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY every Monday night of the NRL season, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in tonight at 10:45pm (AEST) ahead of Wednesday’s State of Origin opener!
We’re two days out from the State of Origin series opener and it’s interesting, because it’s been a low-key build-up, perhaps the most reserved in recent memory.
There’s been no mystery illness go through the Queensland camp, no Maroons player in a race against time to overcome an injury like we seem to get every year.
And normally by now we’d have had wall-to-wall coverage of Freddy’s alternative ways, his barefoot walks and “earthing” theories.
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One factor in that might be Billy Slater – it’s his first series in charge and he’ll have a different way of approaching the match than his predecessors. Maybe he doesn’t want to play those mind games we’ve seen in the past.
Yesterday on The Sunday Footy Show Billy told us that Xavier Coates will almost certainly play on the left wing, that’s something you would almost never have seen in the past from Queensland, they’d keep that a secret until the two sides ran out on Wednesday night.
The subdued build-up is interesting, perhaps both sides have realized how close this series could potentially be and they’ve chosen to focus their energy there.
On paper, this is potentially the closest series for four years.
If Queensland are to win it will be a simple game plan. It will be an old school, hard fought, bash them up through the middle type of game, then allow the Maroons to use their speed on the fringes.
They don’t have a lot of ball-playing forwards, there’s not really anyone there who’s known as an off-loader.
Queensland’s approach will be to use their forwards to beat up the New South Wales forwards, then let Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster steer the ship.
In a way, New South Wales are the opposite, they’ve got ball-players across the park. Isaah Yeo is almost like an extra half, along with Junior Paulo and Cam Murray you can expect to see plenty of offloads, while Damien Cook will be darting around the ruck and then the outside backs, they can hurt you everywhere.
The conditions will play a big part in the result. Accor Stadium is traditionally very, very slippery, it makes ball-playing very hard. But the flipside to that is the wind. It’s been very windy in Sydney over the last few days, if the wind gets into the stadium on Wednesday night that will keep it dry, it will keep the dew off the ground, and that certainly favors New South Wales.
If the wind drops off, and it’s damp and slippery, I think that favors Queensland.
The forecast suggests there won’t be any rain, but to be honest dew is such a factor at Accor Stadium that rain actually doesn’t matter. The Blues are certainly going to want to have some wind to keep the ground as dry as possible.
The ARLC announced on Friday that it’s changed the judicial code, making it less likely players will miss club matches for relatively minor offenses that occur in representative matches.
That’s long overdue, I wish it had been around years ago!
The players never like paying fines, but they don’t like missing matches either. I guarantee from the clubs’ point of view, a fine is a lot more palatable than having one of their star players miss a match because of something that happened in State of Origin.
If you go through the contracts of all 34 Origin players and work out the pro-rata amount per match, the fine will be less than what they earn per match, so it’s pretty easy to figure out which option they’d prefer.
The hardest place to hit a player is the back pocket, but given the club pays the overwhelming majority of the money earned by a player, it was always tough to punish the club for something relatively minor that happened when the player was away on rep duty .
Maybe the biggest news out of the change is the reduced possibility of a player missing a finals match, even a grand final, for something relatively minor.
If you’ve got some prior offenses then a minor indiscretion can mean you miss a grand final, and I don’t think that sat well with anyone.
It’s a change that probably should have come in years ago.
Go easy on the Warriors
There’s been a few whispers about Nathan Brown’s future at the Warriors, and they were very disappointing against Manly on the weekend, but it’s so hard to be critical of the club given what they’ve been through since the pandemic struck.
We’re so quick to judge these days and call for the coach to be sacked, and there’s always going to be someone willing to take the job, whether that be Shane Flanagan, Paul Green, Cameron Ciraldo or Josh Hannay, but I look at the playing roster and wonder if a new coach would do any better than Brown.
The one area of concern in recent weeks is their effort. Some of the scores put on them have been a bit too big for comfort. If you get beaten by 12 points by a better team, well sometimes you just have to accept that. But they lost 44-12 to Manly, who weren’t at full strength, and had 70 put on them by Melbourne.
They’ve conceded more points than any team in the competition, and you feel that sometimes the effort hasn’t quite been there this year. Does that come back to the coach? Probably not. I’d be looking more at the individual players. I’m not going to hang Nathan Brown out to dry, each player needs to look at his own performance.
Nathan said after the loss to Manly that there’s been times this season when they’ve taken the field not really expecting to win, and that’s a major concern.
I never took the field not expecting to win. Those comments worry me, but in fairness to Nathan, sometimes you say something after a loss and it doesn’t come out the way you intended it to. Being interviewed straight after a loss is hard, you’re often emotional and it’s difficult to get your thoughts straight.
Being critical of the Warriors right now is like beating up Bambi, they’ve done an amazing job in the last two-and-a-half years to keep the game going. You’ve got to remember the Polynesian community are very family-oriented, which has made their situation even more difficult.
I know they’ve had their immediate family with them, and they’ve been looked after very well by the NRL. I’m not for a second making excuses, because my understanding is pretty much everything they’ve asked for they’ve received. Both the Warriors and NRL have done an amazing job.
But at the end of the day they’ve got extended family that aren’t with them, even not sleeping in your own bed for such a long time takes its toll. I remember a Kangaroos tour which went for two months, there’s nothing like your own bed and your own house.
It’s possible some of the players have just reached the end of their tether, the finish line is in sight and they’ll be going home soon, so maybe a few of them are already mentally on the plane back to New Zealand.
I think we need to cut them some slack.
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