Saturday, 15 July 2017

Forcing a Pearce peg into an Origin hole (2017)

Another year and another State of Origin series falls the way of the Maroons after such a promising start from the Blues.

But this year surely is the one that hurts the most for New South Wales.

They played a Queensland side that has begun its transition from the dynasty to the next young crop of talent. They were without Darius Boyd, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston at times and both Greg Inglis and Matt Scott failed to play a part in any of the three games.

Queensland stuck with the as much of the team from 2016 in Game 1 and were belted. They rang in the changes for Game 2 and snuck home. Two more debutants lined up in the decider and Queensland, without Thurston, Boyd, Scott and Inglis, strolled to an easy win over the Blues.

The pre-series talk for New South Wales was about whether Mitch Pearce should be recalled, given his woeful form in Origin. He had been in brilliant form for the Roosters thus far in the season so it seemed a given he be selected.

Then came the assumptions by former players and commentators that the reason New South Wales lost with Pearce in the side was because Farah was too dominant and overcalled Pearce.

So Farah was not picked. Instead the selectors went with a new option, the talented Nathan Peats.

What transpired though was Peats became nothing more than a tackling, stand and pass merchant, denied the opportunity to show any creativity at all. Across all 3 of his Origin games, he ran the ball 6 times, had 0 line breaks, 0 try assists, 0 offloads and 0 line break assists.

All of this was done so that Pearce could have full control of the team and be comfortable to play at his best.

Pearce produced 0 line breaks, 0 try assists and 0 line break assists. He continued to kick the ball directly to Queensland’s back three. Every time.

He ran the same play, over and over again, slowly and poorly.

He regularly botched small plays with his team mate from the Roosters Boyd Cordner.

Many will say that it is hard for a halfback to play at their peak when their forwards are struggling. And to a degree it’s true. But if you had a hooker who was either prepared, or perhaps allowed, to make a few dummy half scoots to try and get the defence back pedalling, more often than once every half, that would help the halfback.

You can see in Cameron Smith’s stats across the 3 Origin games how vital it can be to have your rake running the ball. In Game 1 he made 3 runs for just 9 metres. In Game 3 he made 18 runs for 112 metres. Peats made around 30 metres in his first two games and a miserly 3 metres in Game 3.

Only one player in the Blues spine pulled their weight and it was Fullback James Tedesco, while James Maloney was passable at best. He made 3 of their 6 line breaks (Maloney made the other 3), 3 of their 5 try assists (Maloney had the other 2) and all 3 of their line break assists.

Also, stop picking fullbacks in the centres. Sure Hayne and Dugan have had some good games there, but they were defensively poor and more often than not, failed to get their wingers any decent opportunities, on the rare occasions that they did pass the ball.

Woods was largely useless, even in the opening game, Fifita was heavily targeted in the second and third games after a barnstorming Origin opener. Frizell’s NRL form didn’t carry over and he failed to have much impact while Jackson was great in Game 2, he seems to be lacking in attack.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the style of play and the stubbornness to persist with a failed half. Coach Laurie Daley has been incessantly hammering the large square peg of Pearce into the small round hole of being an Origin quality halfback.

It’s time for Daley to go. It’s time for Mitchell Pearce to go. If neither happens soon, Queensland will have replaced the likes of Smith, Cronk, Thurston, Slater, Boyd, Scott and Inglis and will be embarking on yet another dynasty, while Laurie Daley continues hammering away trying to make a squad of 16 work around 1 player who simply isn’t good enough and doesn’t deserve the opportunity any more.