The Blues came away with a much more convincing game against Queensland for Origin 2 – so convincing that you had to wonder whether the post-GF slump had got to Nathan Cleary and James Tedesco the first time around; Cleary for losing the big game, Teddy for not even reaching it. They’d both come good by the time they hosted the Maroons at ANZ in front of a crowd of 40 000 though, putting in two of their best performances of 2020 to secure a convincing 34-10 win.
Both teams rolled up the park for the first couple of sets, with Cameron Munster subbing off for Ben Hunt ninety seconds in after leaping up to collect a Cleary kick in goal. The contact with Tyson Frizell brought his head to ground at an awkward angle, but the Maroons didn’t have much time to mourn his absence, which would last the game, since they immediately got the first restart of the game to augment their seven tackle set, off a ruck error from Jake Trbojevic.
Josh Papalii came close to breaking through the line but knocked on instead, as four Blues piled on to prevent him crashing over beside the right post. Queensland were staunch in defence on the next set, forcing Cleary to kick from the New South Wales thirty, although Angus Crichton gave the first indication he was going to have a massive night, storming in to smash Valentine Holmes to ground the moment he collected it.
The Blues couldn’t build here, however, as Josh Ado-Carr sent the footy forward into a big collision from Kurt Capewell and Phillip Sami, and the Maroons responded with their best try in two Origin matches. Four tackles in, Hunt shifted the ball right, and Jaydn Su’A almot broke through the line, laying the platform for Daly Cherry-Evans to send out a wide bullet ball a tackle later to Dane Gagai, who set up Xavier Coates for the best try of his career to date.
The Brisbane young gun leaped in the air from about a foot out, soaring so high that his entire torso was perpendicular to the ground when he put the Steeden down, turning a full somersault above the turf as Teddy came in too late to slide him into touch. This seemed destined to unleash a swathe of Queensland points, especially when Hunt’s next kick trapped Ado-Carr right on the line, and Cleary could only respond with a wobbly one that caught Daniel Saifiti offside downtown.
Gagai came close to breaking through on the right edge two plays later, and Daniel Tupou collided hard in the air with Coates to gather Hunt’s subsequent kick, but the Blues conceded another offside penalty at the end of their next set, this time from Trbojevic. DCE barked orders at his men as they lined up for their best attacking opportunity since their try – and the most sustained field position for either team so far – and sure enough Capewell got them rolling with big metres up the left edge.
Clint Gutherson stopped him, but Gagai was just as restless on the other side of the park, while Hunt tried to sent Capewell through for a second time on the last, only for Ado-Carr to make a clutch tackle to clean up the run. This proved to be the critical turning-point in the first half, as an offside error from Jake Friend bled into a string of Maroon mistakes – two successive ruck errors from Papalii and DCE, the second of which resulted in a Cleary linebreak, followed by a hand in the ruck from Felise Kaufusi.
A tackle later Cody Walker proved his mettle in place of Luke Keary, receiving the footy from Cleary, bumping off Capewell, dummying to the right at the ten, and finally breaking through a low tackle from Kaufusi, relying on momentum to carry him in goal for the first NSW try. This was a great play from Walker, but even more importantly it was an indication that Cleary was back after last week’s lacklustre offering – from the linebreak, to the assist, to the sublime sideline kick that put the Blues two ahead.
The Blues had a stronger restart than the Maroons too, as Damien Cook made fifteen metres up the middle and almost broke through the line, before Cleary’s kick and Gutho’s chase trapped Sami five metres out. Just as Cleary had got back into first gear, now Teddy fully stepped into the spotlight, collecting the next kick with aplomb, and scoring two minutes later, at the back end of the first dropout of the match.
The repeat came off Cleary, who shot out a long kick on the fourth that now trapped Sami five metres behind the line, thanks in part to the best chase of the night so far from Ado-Carr. DCE booted it to the forty, Walker took the first carry, Trbojevic surged up the middle, Payne Haas followed suit, and Cleary shifted it left to Crichton, who came close to breaking through DCE.
Finally, Cleary sent Tedesco across in the same spot where Walker had scored – and just as effortlessly too, as the world’s greatest fullback simply brushed off Hunt to storm through a sliding hole in the Queensland defence. Kaufusi took himself out of the line by setting his sights on Cleary, and Capewell arrived too late to contend with Teddy’s scintillating footwork. Once again Cleary added the extras and so the Blues were eight ahead – double the margin they’d lost by in Origin 1.
It took them fourteen minutes and three interchanges – including Isaah Yeo’s Origin debut – to build to their next try. For a moment it looked like the Maroons might bounce back when Gagai prevented Teddy crossing over on the left edge, but all it took was a lost ball from Coates to shift things back to the Blues, as Ado-Carr scored straight out the scrum, swiveling on out the outside of Sami and then swerving back in field, where he put in a subtle right step to elude Hunt as well.
With Cleary adding the conversion the Blues now had their biggest half-time lead since 2013, and came back much quicker after this third try, effectively scoring back-to-back when they crossed over two sets into the second stanza. Queensland did have one touch of the footy, but NSW contained them pretty clinically, before Ado-Carr caught DCE’s kick on the full, and Teddy took a strong carry up the middle on the second, clearing up space for Junior Paulo to really start flexing on the third.
Cleary followed his fullback by taking on the big men on the fourth, playing the ball quickly for a left sweep that ended with Walker catch-and-passing to Jack Wighton for the toughest try of the game. The big Canberra backliner received the Steeden ten metres out, bounced through a low tackle from Gagai, a follow-up effort from Coates, and a last-ditch run from Su’A, and then simply muscled his way to the line for another four points.
Cleary wasn’t having any problems with the boot tonight, slotting through another stunning conversion to bring the Blues to a twenty-point lead. They got their third six again on the first tackle of the restart, and then reaped the dividends of another chapter in the Fox-Sami chase saga. Once again Cleary kicked early, and while Ado-Carr might not have reached 37km/h as he did before the dropout, he still managed to drag Sami over the sideline for another burst of New South Wales field position.
Tupou came close to scoring in the left corner on play one, and a biff almost broke out when Lindsay Collins forced a knock-on from Junior Paulo – both forerunners of what was to come later in the match. The Giraffe, in particular, wouldn’t have to wait long for the sequel to this sequence as pressure from Cleary forced Friend to lob the footy over the sideline a couple of sets later, getting the Blues a head start from halfway up the park.
Things got worse for Friend two tackles later when Nathan Brown absolutely skittled him in the middle of the field, before the spine experimented with a left sweep, only for Cleary to realise there was nothing doing and chip it to the right on the last. The Maroons got a hand to it, Gutho popped it back over the sideline, and Ado-Carr slammed into a maelstrom of Queensland jerseys on the wing, where a knock-on from Sami gifted the Blues the fresh set they needed here.
All the compression and consolidation now paid off, as Tupou strolled over straight away, receiving the Steeden from Teddy, and virtually crossing over untouched, with only DCE brushing his fingers against his shoulder as he slid deep into the corner. Full credit goes to Wighton, too, who ran a terrific decoy line to engage Gagai as the ball moved through Walker and Tedesco. Cleary’s aim was true from the sideline, but the footy ricocheted of the left post at the last minute, keeping it a 24-point lead.
The big men had a pretty emphatic set on the restart, culminating with a strong contest between Haas and Tino Faasuamaleaui that cleared up space for Cleary to trap Coates in the right corner with the kick. The Brisbane young gun decided to let it bounce over the side instead of risking the contest with Tupou, and Tino and Haas met again on the fourth tackle of the next set, just before Yeoh was pinged for an escort on Holmes as Teddy was securing the high ball.
Tensions now flared further between Haas and Tino, resulting in a pair of punches that saw both big boppers binned – the biggest Origin biff in years – leaving both teams with twelve men as the last quarter of the match drew near. Haas and Tino have a deep history with schoolboy footy and the Brisbane system, so you could sense the rivalry ran deep when Haas beckoned to the Maroons lock to continue the fracas on the sideline, inducing Gerard Sutton to delay Tino’s sendoff for a couple of seconds.
For all the drama, Queensland didn’t do much with the penalty, despite a pair of Gutherson errors that augmented their field position pretty considerably, since the Blues were impenetrable in defence here. Cleary and Frizell lifted DCE a metre off the ground on the first play after Gutho’s first error, Yeoh held up Jai Arrow in front of the posts on play two, and Frizell, Brown, Crichton and Cook regathered after Gutho’s second mistake by holding up Collins in exactly the same spot.
With Wighton forcing Coates to put a knee to the sideline on the next play, this had been the best defence of the night from New South Wales, who had disposed of every big player in the Maroons arsenal. They came very close to scoring on their next carry, when Holmes let a Cleary kick bounce. The Fox scooped it up and shot it back over the sideline, and Gutho almost made up for his pair of errors with another Blue four-pointer.
The replay confirmed that the tip of the Steeden had hit the chalk, but this was still a solid showing from NSW, so it felt like a genuine game-changer when Queensland scored on the very next set. Finally, Capewell got his linebreak on the left edge – and then six again when Ado-Carr infringed the ruck a second later. In a mirror image of Walker and Teddy’s tries, DCE then popped a short one to Papalii, who got on the outside of Cook’s shoulder and muscled past Trbojevic to score beside the right post.
Another try here and the Maroons might have been back in the game, but instead Capewell followed his linebreak with a cough-up on play one, and Ado-Carr made up for his ruck error by collecting it, as Haas and Tino started to come down the tunnels. Even better, Ado-Carr scored a double at the end of it all, culminating his night-long chase contest with Sami by storming down a Walker kick, scooping the Steeden into his chest, and slamming to ground in triumph.
Papali’i let the pressure get to him with a hair pull on Crichton shortly after, and yet the Blues showed no sign of slowing down. A half-break from Cleary opened up the line for Teddy, who would have scored if he hadn’t slipped over, while NSW got another shot off a DCE error. It came to nothing when Saifiti made a mistake in turn, but Cleary still got time to boot the best 40/20 of his year, catching the footy quickly and shaping as if to kick behind Sami before sending it skidding down the field.
Three minutes out from the end Hunt was pinged for a dangerous tackle, and so Cleary popped the last two through the posts, bringing the Blues to a 24-point lead – their equal fourth best win over the Maroons. On the other side of the Steeden, Queensland will be raring to make the most of the home advantage next week, especially with Suncorp opened up to 50 000 spectators, for what promises to be a terrific Origin final in Brisbane.