With Queensland’s stunning, against the odds victory in Adelaide now in the books, all eyes turn to ANZ stadium ahead of Origin two tonight.
Despite being bested by the baby Maroons in the series opener, New South Wales are still heavy favourites with the bookies to not only win game two, but the whole series.
Still, before the pair of age-old enemies do battle once more, a further set of queries must be raised.
Here are the big questions ahead of tonight’s all-important game two.
Can Bennett make lightning strike twice?
Last Wednesday night’s victory was one that will live long in Maroon folklore.
Nobody outside their bubble gave them a snowflake’s chance in hell of upsetting a star-studded Blues outfit. The possibility of a Queensland victory was never raised by pundits, with their prevailing views that the Cockroaches would charge to triumph by the length of Randwick.
Anyone that switched their dials to Channel Nine’s coverage last Wednesday – and according to the ratings, that wasn’t many of us – would be able to tell you that lightening struck and unlike popular myth, the intrusion of roaches was wiped.
However, the bolt brandisher wasn’t an ancient Greek god clad in a toga, but was instead a deadpanned 70-year-old dressed in a burgundy blazer.
— 7NEWS Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) November 5, 2020
It may seem unfair to heap all of the praise on Bennett for his team’s long odds win, but when you analyse the turning point in last week’s battle, it is clear that it would be unjust to taper his impact.
Down 10-0 at the half, Bennett’s babies made their way to the sheds to be receive their revised plan of attack.
The result? An 18-4, three try to one second half that was kickstarted with debutant AJ Brimson crossing the line nine minutes after the restart.
The specifics of the master coach’s message remain ambiguous, but what can be ascertained is that it contained notes on retaining the ball, completing sets, and playing direct.
From the restart until the 66th minute, the Maroons dominated both with and without the Steeden. Their ability to complete sets allowed for both Daly Cherry Evans and Cameron Munster’s kicking games to turn water into wine and their forward pack to begin sets in favourable positions.
Although winning with away from home with an inexperienced lineup will always be cause for celebration, here’s to hoping it was just XXXX stubbies that were cracked in the sheds and not the fancy French bubbly.
Heading into enemy territory tonight, the odds – literally and metaphorically – are still stack against Bennett and his boys. In the 28 prior meetings at the venue, the Blues well and truly own the ledger with 18 wins, a draw and just nine defeats.
Bennett’s wiry physique is unlikely to ever draw comparisons to that of fellow lightening thrower Zeus, but should the man with the game’s greatest poker face repeat orchestrate a repeat of game one, it will be beside the point.
Will retaining the same centres pairing come back to bite Brad Fittler?
Before last week’s series opener, I made a plethora of predictions. Although a handful came to fruition, my praise for the unorthodox Blues centres did not.
On paper, a side containing both Clint Gutherson and Jack Wighton would be predicted to win far more games than they lose – even if they are both played out of position.
Can we pick proper centres for the blues?
— Anna (@spannaforce) November 4, 2020
Still, after a pair of limp performances in the three and four jerseys, the old adage stills holds water – Rugby League is not played on paper.
The pair’s out of position outputs drew the post-game ire of Origin legends Darren Lockyer and Peter Sterling.
“I think the biggest headache for NSW is I don’t think Wighton gets involved enough in the centres and I don’t think Gutherson’s comfortable where he is. I think that’s something that Brad will look at,” Lockyer said on Nine following the Blues defeat.
NSW great Peter Sterling replied: “They’re both players playing out of position to where they do in club football, so there’s going to be some serious conversations inside the NSW camp as to what they put on the paddock next week.”
Now Fittler may well have taken Lockyer’s advice and looked at the issue. He may have even taken a leaf from Sterling’s book and partaken in some serious conversations. However, when the line-ups for game two were released, the targeted pair had retained their places.
This quandary may well prove to be a storm in a teacup, but should Queensland clinch the series tonight, howls from Albury to Tweed Heads will be heard as to why ‘Freddie’ failed to start ‘out and out’ centres Stephen Crichton and Zac Lomax.
Why is Gutherson in this team over Lomax?
— The Peanut Gallery (@_shanmoho) November 4, 2020
What role has the bubble played?
Now I’m not normally one to don the tinfoil hat, but when conspiracy theories are started by those in the know, I tend to lend and ear and gulp a grain of salt.
Speaking on Monday afternoon on Sydney’s SEN1170, Matthew Johns raised the question about what role the bubble had to play in the Blues’ game one defeat.
What Matty Johns is expecting in State of Origin game 2.
— SEN 1116 (@1116sen) November 9, 2020
“My article leading into the game was that everyone was certain that New South Wales was going to win. I was a little bit wary,” the former Blues half said.
“They [Queensland] found themselves in a sweet spot. They found that no one was giving them a chance – they love that.
“When you spoke to a couple of Queensland players like Harry Grant, he was so excited. Going back into the bubble meant nothing for him. He was just so excited to get into camp, a life time ambition being realised and being coached by the great Wayne Bennett.
The games cynics will argue that this statement was merely radio patter. Ardent Queenslanders will claim it as nothing more than sour grapes for a rusted-on Blue.
However, following an arduous and unprecedented season that has led to a post-season series, what if Johns’ airwave jaunt is closer to fact than fiction?
Although we won’t know until the shield is either retained or seized, you can be sure that if Queensland win the plaque back, Johns’ views will be used as an excuse by their southern neighbours.
Which of the changes will have the greatest impact on the result?
Although there have been a myriad of changes – both forced and unforced – to each side’s team sheets for game two, Brad Fittler’s decision to drop Luke Keary for Cody Walker has had chins wagging all week.
Right across the yellow number plated state, pundits ranging from professional to delusional have definitively had their say.
Following the lacklustre defeat last Wednesday, former New South Wales superstar Andrew Johns kickstarted the debate.
“Luke, defensively tonight, looked a little bit vulnerable on that side of the field,” Johns said on Channel Nine’s post-game coverage.
“They’ve had a long year, the Roosters. They’ve been up for a long time.
“Cody Walker has to start. He has to play five-eighth with his creativity.
“When he came on the field, Cody, he likes to play. He likes to get his hands on the ball and he likes to create.
“There were times in the second half – obviously the Blues were on the back foot – but there were times where they had quick play the ball, and the halves didn’t stand up and play.
“Once he (Walker) came on, they started playing with Cody and they looked dangerous. That’s where Queensland were vulnerable.”
Although he later in the week backtracked on his stance somewhat, Johns’ great mate Fittler agreed with the Immortal’s initial assessment.
In a season comprised of 10 tries, 21 try assists, 15 linebreaks and 11 offloads, Walker’s creativity and spark could prove just the antidote for the Blues’ mundane game one output.
— NRL (@NRL) September 4, 2020
At 30, Walker still has rockets in his heels and after a season spent dominating in the halves for Souths alongside Adam Reynolds, expect the same at his ANZ Stadium stomping ground tonight.