Despite dominating New South Wales in the second half and claiming an emphatic 18-14 win in Game One at Suncorp Stadium, Queensland coach Kevin Walters insists the Maroons weren’t close to their best in the Origin opener.
Queensland produced a typical second-half masterclass to overcome the Blues, after trailing by eight points at half time, and were arguably unlucky to be trailing given they were denied three try-scoring opportunities in the opening stanza by the bunker.
The Maroons’ damaging forward pack went to another level in the final 40 in Brisbane, running for a whopping 848 metres to dominate the yardage battle and enable the side’s backline to open up the Blues’ tired defensive line and claim victory.
Speaking with the press after touching down in Perth on Monday, Walters insisted his side weren’t at their best despite winning the important opener, and the vastly unchanged squad he’d named for game two will be far better come kick off on Sunday.
“I’d probably give it a five, maybe if I’m being ‘Kind Kevie’ a six out of ten,” Walters said.
“The players are aware of this, they know there need to be improvements. We’ve arrived here early to prepare mentally and physically for the game of our lives.
“Our work this week will be all about fine-tuning some areas of our game that need to get better, and that will get better. Defense wins Origins, and that’s what we’ll be working really hard on this week is improving our defensive line through the ruck and also our edges.
“They’re hard to win (Origin games), but we won game one, and we expect to win game two.”
Asked in which areas of the game the Queensland great felt his side could improve, Walters pinpointed the efforts of some of the players within his spine.
“DCE had five weeks out and played his first Origin game from major surgery. For him to play the way he did in game one I think was outstanding. Now he can get better, certainly, he can.
“Kalyn Ponga’s first game at fullback in the Origin arena, he’s certainly going to learn from that experience.
“Ben Hunt, that was his first game at hooker in the toughest game in the world. What a performance that he gave in game one! He will get better in game two, I can see it in him.”
Walters’ winning Queensland side remains mostly unchanged for game two, other than two adjustments forced through injures to starting lock Jai Arrow and bench forward Joe Ofahengaue. It means Dylan Napa will be promoted from the bench and veteran forward Tim Glasby is recalled from last year’s series.
The Blues meanwhile have opted for a staggering seven changes to the squad which lost game one in Brisbane.
Perhaps the most shocking of these was the decision to axe star centre Latrell Mitchell, who only weeks ago was dubbed by many as the game’s current greatest player.
Mitchell’s effort in game one, as well as off-field issues, prompted coach Brad Fittler to swing the axe, replacing the 21-year-old with utility back Jack Wighton, who was strong in his role coming off the bench in the series opener in Brisbane.
Walters’ sidestepped any suggestion he’d be sleeping easier knowing Mitchell won’t be lining up for the Blues at Optus Stadium on Sunday, but there’s no doubt it will be a huge task for NSW’s left-side to step up without the damaging star.
Unlike last year, the pressure is all on NSW coach Fittler who has come under fire for making so many bold alterations to his side despite only losing game one by four points and dominating the first half.
With Queensland expecting to be much improved in the second game of the series, the pressure is firmly on NSW coach Fittler to produce a coaching miracle to square the series and take momentum into the final game of the series in Sydney.