Sharks at Origin – 5 Key Points
There was one happy Shark and four left downcast and disappointed following State of Origin game two last night at ANZ Stadium.
The Queenslanders, with Valentine Holmes on the left wing, came from 10 points down at half time to upset NSW and level the series at one-game apiece.
The 18-16 win by the Maroons has set up an epic Origin decider at Suncorp on July 12.
But what was the fallout from the NSW loss, how did the five Sharks fare and what were the key points to come from the Queensland win?
Never count out a Queenslander
At half time NSW supporters were celebrating. Other than a short period before the end of the half the Blues were dominant, three tries giving them a 10-point lead at the break.
Surely this was their time, in front of a parochial home crowd, when NSW would break the Queensland stranglehold and win back the Origin shield.
Unfortunately, Queensland had other ideas. Led by the usual suspects in Smith, Slater, Cronk and Thurston, the Maroons battled back, hung in when it mattered then crossed for the match winner just minutes before fulltime.
Again, NSW will go back to the drawing board and figure out a game plan for game three. But at Suncorp, potentially the last Origin game for two or three of their legends, and the difficulty of the task awaiting them is immense.
NSW steer clear of Holmes
In game one NSW kicked and kicked and kicked some more to winger Corey Oates, with the tactic obviously, a part of the game plan.
This time around Sharks star Valentine Holmes had slotted onto the left wing in one of a number of Queensland changes and as a result the NSW plan changed dramatically.
Likely wary of the damage Holmes can do on kick returns, with his strong charges into the defensive line a perfect way to start a set of six, NSW avoided the left and kicked almost exclusively to Dane Gagai on the right.
With the ball avoiding him for the most part Holmes wasn’t overly busy in a steady Origin debut, doing the job needed by his team in the narrow Queensland win, with his early try the highlight of his night.
Fifita a marked man
It was always going to be difficult for Fifita in backing up a performance in game one which had been labelled amongst the best for a front rower in Origin history.
Queensland were on him like a rash every time he carried the ball and NSW, sensing what was going to happen, appeared to look more to Woods, Frizell and Jackson for their go forward.
Still credit to Fifita, while he may have only amassed 88 metres on 14 carries, he played with discipline and was error free on a night where he could have become frustrated due to the extra attention.
Bring on game three for the big guy, with Fifita capable of repeating his last Suncorp effort and helping to bring the trophy back to NSW.
Other Sharks have their moments
With NSW on the front foot early it was a James Maloney line break which led to a Mitchell Pearce try, with the Sharks five eighth responsible for two try assists on the night.
He did miss a sideline conversion which would ultimately prove the difference, but on the flip side Maloney slotted one difficult kick as well as a relatively easy one, if there is such a thing under the intense pressure of Origin football.
Entering the game late in the first half Wade Graham played on the unfamiliar right hand side of the field, making some telling tackles in the period just before the break.
In the second half he moved back to the left, found some more ball and kicked intelligently and skilfully on a couple of occasions. He did however miss a crucial tackle and when his teammates compounded the error with misses of their own a long-range Queensland try was the result.
As for Jack Bird, the question Laurie Daley must be asking himself is how to get him on sooner. Bird was thrown into the game when James Tedesco was replaced following a head knock and immediately delivered the energy and enthusiasm he has become known for.
All the Sharks had their moments, but for four of the five, it wasn’t the result they were hoping for.
Junior Sharks shine
While the Sharks had five reps in the main game, four of their young clubmates were involved in the NSW v Queensland under 18’s match earlier in the night.
For NSW, Luke Metcalf and Jaeman Salmon were in the halves, Teig Wilton in the back row, while Ronaldo Mulitalo played in the centres for Queensland.
All played strongly, with Metcalf the standout with three tries for the Blues in a performance that saw him rewarded as man-of-the-match.
Salmon was solid at five eighth, Wilton damaging with the ball in hand on the edges and before he was injured just minutes before half time Mulitalo had scored a try and caused NSW plenty of problems with his robust running game.
If this was a dress rehearsal for what is to come down the track, the future at the Sharks shines very bright.