Origin I | Five Key Points
It wasn't a 46-point thrashing but Queensland's 6-4 win over New South Wales at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night was enough for the disjointed Maroons to take the early advantage in the Holden State of Origin series.
Queensland struggle for cohesion… and still win
In a game where Queensland heavyweights in Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis struggled to make a profound impact on proceedings they were still able to come away with a two-point win.
In the same light, halfback Cooper Cronk's scrutinised preparation appeared to have a effect on Queensland's overall performance with the Maroons looking lost – particular in the first half – when trying to string passes together.
There were very few instances where Cronk and Thurston were able to link up for backline movements yet still came together when it counted in the lead-up to Dane Gagai's eventual match-winning try in the 37th minute with a scoreless second half to follow.
Their ability to hang tough from the opening whistle to the last when it comes down to it is a testament to the dynasty Queensland have managed (and now continue) to build over the past decade.
Speaking after his debut game, Queensland coach Kevin Walters couldn't have been happier with the challenges his side continue to overcome.
"I'm just so happy for this group of players," he said. "I mean they keep getting thrown challenges every year with Origin and somehow they just keep coming up and manufacturing wins.
"As a Queensland person – as a Queensland fan – it's hard to explain. It's a privilege to work with these sort of guys. They’ve been brilliant and they just keep answering questions that are thrown at them."
Reynolds stands firm for Blues
Blues halfback Adam Reynolds can hold his head up high.
While his Origin debut didn't come with the final killer blow for a NSW victory, Reynolds was just about his side's best.
Reynolds was peppered by Maroons veteran Corey Parker the entire game with his kick-pressure. In the 28th minute, Parker's attempts of intimidation were laughed off by the diminutive playmaker.
The majority of Reynolds' 569 kicking metres (just 20 metres fewer than Cronk and Thurston combined) found ground too – a luxury NSW hasn't been afforded in recent years. His short kicking game was cause for plenty of pressure too in the grunt of the game.
Popular opinion would have Reynolds and halves partner James Maloney struggle in defence in the lead-up too, but they only missed three tackles between them.
NSW coach Laurie Daley was complimentary of the halves and said they'll be better for the run.
"I thought they combined really well. It's always difficult [with a] short prep," Daley said.
"We had a new seven, six and one and I think most coaches will tell you when you're putting a spine together, it takes a bit of time. They'll be better in Game Two."
Queensland goes against the grain
In years gone past the Maroons' left-edge, usually Inglis and Darius Boyd, have been well-utilised and a big reason behind plenty of their success. It didn’t quite go down like that whatsoever in this particular fixture.
While Boyd was one of Queensland's best at fullback, Inglis made only 27 metres in the first half and ended the game with a tick over a century as Queensland's right edge of Gagai and Justin O'Neill saw the majority of the ball.
Corey Oates was expected to cause plenty of headaches for NSW and while he was solid on debut wasn't outstanding.
For Queensland it was Gagai's try that proved the difference three minutes from half-time too, which wouldn't have been made possible if not for O'Neill's slick hands just prior.
Walters was buoyed by the performances of Queensland's new-look right-edge partnership.
"They have a pretty good pedigree those two from where they’ve come from. Certainly Justin, he's had a lot of time in first grade," Walters said.
"He's played grand finals and won those grand finals. For a young boy he's come a long way and I thought he really stood up tonight against a really classy player in Michael Jennings."
Moylan's nervous Origin debut
There's only one word to describe fullback Matt Moylan's Origin debut: nervous.
Moylan struggled under the immense pressure of Queensland's kicking game.
Three bombs from Cronk saw Moylan and Blake Ferguson left in the lurch while another was cause for an error – an error that was lucky not to be the impetus behind Gagai's second try of the game.
When he did latch on to kicks he managed to run the ball back with plenty of gusto – something he hasn't quite produced consistently at Penrith – though overall it was an mixed bag for the Panthers skipper.
For NSW's other debutants, Moylan's fellow Penrith teammate Josh Mansour did his best with what he got while Dylan Walker's nine-minute stint from the bench won't be looked back on too fondly.
Daley was more or less pleased by the young debutant's first showing in the sky blue jumper.
"I thought they played well. It's always difficult in your first Origin game coming up against a great team," Daley said.
"They'll get better – and they need to get better. We all need to get better. All is not lost yet."
Referees 'let the boys play'
A penalty in the 13th minute by Paul Gallen for a high tackle on Matt Scott sent social media into overdrive with cries of 'let the boys play' the main message filtering through Twitter and Facebook.
However when you look back on the decisions made by referees Ben Cummins and Gerard Sutton, that's exactly what they did.
Only eight penalties were blown and the bunker's only decision not to award Josh Morris a try late on in the game was correct.
The amount of penalties in Origin I was a nice change of pace considering last year's series. There were 42 penalties blown across the three Origins in 2015 – at an average of 14 per game.
The two men in the middle undoubtedly let the boys play.
This article first appeared on NRL.com
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