Six Things We Learned From State of Origin Game 1

Game 1 of the 2022 State of Origin series delivered everything that we’ve come to expect from the biggest rivalry in rugby league, from big hits to moments of individual brilliance and, pivotally, a tight and tense finish. New South Wales headed in as favourites on their home turf, but it was the undeniable talent of the Maroons which ultimately prevailed as the visitors went on to win 16-10, establishing a 1-0 series lead which they will be reluctant to relinquish. And with a game in Queensland to come, the Blues are now in the unenviable position of needing to win at Suncorp Stadium to win the series. Heading into Game 2 in a couple of weeks’ time, these are six things we learned from the series opener on Wednesday night. 


Cameron Munster could be the league’s best playmaker

As last year’s Clive Churchill Medalist and leader of the reigning Premiers and runaway best team in the NRL this season, few would question Nathan Cleary’s credentials as the game’s best playmaker. In Game 1 of the 2022 State of Origin series, however, Cameron Munster made it clear that he deserves to be right alongside the Panthers superstar in that conversation. The 27-year-old was electric for the Maroons in the series opener, setting the tone defensively and making plays both by foot and with ball in hand throughout his side’s 16-10 win. 

 His Man of the Match performance was hardly the only time he has shone on the Origin stage – he was Queensland’s best player and the Wally Lewis Medallist back in 2020, when a Maroons side given little to no chance pulled off a major upset against their more highly fancied opponent. If he can lead them to victory again, his name will begin to be mentioned alongside some of the best to ever pull on a Queensland jersey, and he will have plenty of cause to be mentioned alongside Cleary as the game’s best playmaker. 


Queensland’s debutants are the real deal

No matter how good the player, every time somebody steps onto the Origin field for the first time, there are question marks about how they will deal with a pressure of the kind they have likely never faced before. Selwyn Cobbo, Reuben Cotter and Patrick Carrigan could hardly have responded to those concerns any more emphatically. 

Cobbo was welcomed to State of Origin with plenty of physicality from the Blues, but rather than put him off his game it seemed to spur him to a new level. He set up Dane Gagai for the Maroons’ first try of the game after New South Wales had opened up a 4-0 lead, and by the end had racked up 123 running metres along with an offload, a linebreak and three tackle busts.

Cotter and Carrigan were even better. The former was a brick wall on his Origin debut, accumulating a game-high 28 tackles in the first half without any misses. Though he let a couple slip through his hefty frame in the second, a first game at this level with 49 tackles and just three misses, to go along with 95 running metres, was some start to his career in the Maroons jersey.

Carrigan was the only one of the three to come off the bench, but when he entered the fray at the 15-minute mark his immediate and lasting impact meant that new coach Billy Slater had no choice but to keep him in the game. He was excellent on both sides of the ball, finishing the game with 25 tackles and zero misses, as well as 145 metres – the most for his side. 


The Blues’ injured stars are irreplaceable

This is probably no great surprise, but the absence of Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell was notable in the Blues’ loss. Given that those two were the Blues’ best players last year, we could have guessed as much, and with Queensland boasting star power all over the park the absence of two of New South Wales’ best players was even more significant.   

Tommy Turbo, of course, is the reigning Dally M Medallist and the best player in the world in the eyes of most, but will almost certainly miss the remainder of the NRL season after suffering a shoulder injury in May, so clearly he will play no part in the Origin series. There is, however, a little more optimism for Mitchell’s prospects. After hamstring and knee injuries prevented him from getting out on the park over the past couple of months, a positive COVID diagnosis ruled him out of Game 1. Whether he plays in Game 2 remains to be seen and may hinge on whether he can prove his fitness for the Rabbitohs in the meantime, but he is certainly a chance, and should be around for Game 3 if the series is still up for grabs. 

 The absence of these two was a major factor in Game 1, and the long-term nature of Trbojevic’s injury means there’s no respite from the hole he has left in the team. Perhaps, however, a Latrell Mitchell return in Game 2 could provide them with the boost they need to level up the series.


Cleary needs to fire for NSW

With the aforementioned superstars missing, those left on the park for the Blues need to fire. Unfortunately, Nathan Cleary failed to do so in Game 1. Throughout the course of Wednesday night’s game, the usually ubiquitous Panthers co-captain was noticeably quiet, and at no point during the 80 minutes was he able to have much in the way of an impact. It was one of the worst performances Cleary has put in for New South Wales, and was made even worse by the performance of his opposing halves in Munster and Daly Cherry-Evans. 

If New South Wales are to get back into the series, Cleary will need to perform a lot better than he did on Wednesday night. Champions are rarely kept down for long, however, and there will be plenty expecting him to bounce back in kind when the series heads to Perth in a couple of weeks’ time. If the Blues want to put a positive spin on things, here’s one way to do it; they only lost by a single converted try and Cleary put in a performance that he’s unlikely to repeat. If he can turn things around in Game 2, it may have a major impact on the result.  


Experience in the coaches box isn’t everything

Blues’ coach Brad Fittler has led his side to three Shields in the four years that he’s been at the helm of New South Wales, while as we all know, his opposing number in Billy Slater had exactly zero games’ experience in the box. The talk about Slater coming out of the Queensland camp had been overwhelmingly positive, but the reality remained that he had no tangible results up his sleeve to demonstrate his worth – in stark contrast to Fittler. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. 

Slater showed his tactical nous throughout his debut, making decisive and effective moves from the outset of the game. He brought on all three of Pat Carrigan, Harry Grant and Lindsay Collins within the first 20 or so minutes of the game, a response to the speed of the game which he likely hadn’t anticipated making, but one which paid dividends. He could hardly have hoped for a better coaching performance.   


Preventing Dane Gagai from crossing the line in Origin is nigh on impossible

Over the course of his 19 State of Origin appearances leading into this year’s series, Dane Gagai has proved a continual thorn in the Blues’ collective side. His 11 tries in those games had him sitting in a tie for fourth of all time behind only Maroons’ legends Billy Slater (12), Darius Boyd (17) and Greg Inglis (18).

Wednesday night’s game might not have been the best of his career, but he nonetheless managed to add to his tally and join Slater on 12 tries when he crossed the line for the first of Queensland’s three tries in the 34th minute. Gagai made a handful of costly mistakes and missed seven tackles – more than anyone else on the field – so he likely won’t be thrilled with his performance overall, but his uncanny knack for tries was on full show and he is a great chance of jumping into outright third place for all-time Origin tries over the next couple of games. 

Though uncommon, it’s certainly not unheard for teams to fight back and win the State of Origin Shield after facing a 1-0 deficit. There’s no doubting that the Blues’ backs are now against the wall, but they came back from the same deficit just three years ago, while Queensland did it after losing Game 1 at home in 2017 as well as in 2013. 

Game 1 of the 2022 series taught us plenty of lessons, none more notable than those outlined above, but there’s still plenty of water to go under the bridge in this Origin series.  

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