Tuesday, 24 May 2011

State of Origin Game 1 Preview

Will Lockyer lift the shield in his final year?
After a truly horrible split-round of rugby league, where the only highlights were a Canberra victory and Shaun Fensom captaining my DreamTeam with a whopping 178 points, thankfully State of Origin I is on Wednesday to remind league lovers that not all NRL players have the same sporting skill-sets as our former Prime Minister. With two ferociously competitive former Canberra legends at the helm of each team in front of a full house in Brisbane, it promises to be a cracker.

Having spent last Friday night honouring Frank Sobotka's famous ''shot and a beer, Dolores'' drinks order, Chathu will describe the Blues' chances using an epitaph from one of the greatest drama series of all time, The Wire. And since I was born in Meninga territory and raised by a maroon-blooded father, I will try and provide a few unbiased arguments about how this great QLD team can go 1-0 up.

Chathu's NSW Preview

“If animal trapped, call 410-844-6286”
   - Baltimore, traditional

Much like the way this epitaph symbolises most of the characters on The Wire appearing hopelessly trapped in the political and criminal Baltimore environment, for the last few years the Blues have been taking on a seemingly hopeless task of beating Thurston, Lockyer, Smith and Slater. Crime is still high in Baltimore and the Blues haven’t looked like winning a series for five years, and over most of that time I think I had more confidence in surviving in a Louisiana swamp than in a Blues victory.

So while you may think it is probably best just to watch the 2005 State of Origin DVD that you picked up at a $5 JB Hi-Fi bin instead of watching the actual coverage, I think there are a few reasons for a touch more optimism this year:
  • While this may be the wrong time to continue with an incumbent halfback who seems to get picked a lot more on his defense rather than his relative lack of ball playing skills and 5 straight club losses leading up to Game 1, continuity is something that QLD have thrived on, and there seems to be a bit more of that creeping into the Blues selection policy. 
  • We’ve got the better back row, hard not to as there were multiple combinations the selectors could have gone for and still got it right thanks to the depth at this position. 
  • Willie Tonga has had his troubles in defense for the Cowboys inside a young winger and Dane Nielsen is a rookie, so playmakers like Uate and Gasnier will have something to target as long as the halves can get them the ball at the right time and place.
  • There are about a thousand Dragons in this team. So if it comes down to a game where penalty goals are only allowed NSW will win. But in all seriousness the Dragons are handy so their combinations can’t be a bad thing. 
  • Picking the right props helps. Snowden is a monster and King is a fantastic player and has been for some time. Can’t see why coming off the bench for most of the year makes Trent Merrin a better selection than fantasy monster Aidan Tolman, but hey baby steps right?
However after all this the point is QLD has much more talent at fullback, five-eighth, halfback and hooker.  So while my jersey and heart say Blues, that pesky brain of mine is unfortunately saying QLD.

And remember Blues fans, we only need to win one game to make Coach Stuart happy (I mean c’mon, really Ricky???)

AB's QLD Preview

While Chathu inadvertently chose an epitaph from an episode where a popular recurring character was brutally executed for hanging around the game a little too long, based on the past five years a more appropriate quote from The Wire would be:

"You come at the king, you best not miss"
          - Omar Little

It is fitting that this famous quote from one of the greatest television characters of all time perfectly captures the career of one of rugby league's greats, Darren Lockyer. In the past 20 years there has not been a greater crunch time performer than the retiring skipper, having scored or set-up match-winning tries an absurd amount of times. Whether it be a last minute try against the Poms to clinch game 1 of the absorbing 2003 Test Series, or snatching loose passes from Brett Hodgson and Jarryd Hayne to steal Origin games during this five-peat, there is no more bankable winner winner in rugby league today. For the past 15 years, NSW have been coming at the King 2.0 and have missed more often than Shaq at the free throw line.

On paper it is true that Queensland have the more impressive side, with 10 Australian representatives from this months Test match taking the field on Wednesday. So much has already been said about this current team, so instead I will try and quell some of these myths Chathu has been reporting:

NSW ''Continuity''
While NSW have persisted with 10 players who were trounced by QLD last year, they have failed to include Jarryd Hayne, by far and away their best player in the past two series. While he may be my least favourite sporting athlete of all time (and this is definitely not an understatement), as a QLD fan I would much rather see him drifting around looking disinterested at Parramatta Stadium than Suncorp Stadium.

Mitchell Pearce's form brings me to my second theory following last week's popular Tony Soprano Paradox: The Jeremy Piven Effect. While Entourage is awesome because of the mateship, sledging, celebrity cameos and copious amounts of female nudity, the show is essentially carried by Piven's brilliant performance as neurotic agent Ari Gold, so much so that the other actors look good and are even given the odd Emmy or Golden Globe nomination. However, when you go and see a movie starring only Adrien Grenier or Kevin Connolly (think Harvard Man or Rocky V), you realise ''wow, that guy really sucks''. That is the Jeremy Piven Effect - his great performance made everyone believe the other guys were good. Famous sporting examples of the Jeremy Piven Effect in action:
  • Pearce, who in 2010 was billed as one of the premier halfbacks in the NRL during Todd Carney's stellar Dally M season. However in 2011, with Carney on the sidelines, Pearce led his team to 5 straight losses.
  • Daniel Mortimer, who earned a $350,000+ contract following his breakout year in 2009 alongside the freakish late-season performance of Hayne. Fast forward two years, Hayne is about as consistent as the Kurinji flower blossoms, and Mortimer was dropped after being revealed as one of the most uncreative pivots in the NRL.
  • Ricky Ponting, whose legacy as the most successful captain ever has been tarnished in the dark days since Warne and McGrath retired.
  • Fernando Torres, who left Steven Gerrard at Liverpool for a record £50m fee and couldn't score for Chelsea.
Anyway, back to Origin...

NSW Back Row is "Better"
Here is a fairly interesting stat:
  • Combined Origin series wins for Myles, Harrison & Thaiday = 15
  • Combined Origin series wins for Gallen, Bird & Scott = 0
While I agree NSW have selected a very strong back row, the QLD boys know how to get it done at this level.

QLD Centres
Are people forgetting that Willie Tonga has played 5 of the last 6 Origin games? He is hardly a ''second string'' centre as some members of the press are billing him. He destroyed Matt Cooper last year - the same Matt Cooper the NSW media is begging to return to rep footy.
The Verdict
Despite the above factors, I expect the Blues to be much more competitive than the past few years, particularly given Sticky isn't restricted by club coaching duties. I expect Queensland to win by 1-12 ($3.05), but the match will be close enough that NSW will likely cover the +5.5 start.

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