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Thursday, 23 May 2013

#Origin 2013: Why NSW can't keep overloading on backrowers for Game 1 #StateofOrigin

ORIGIN COMMENT: Daley needs to fight fire with fire...
Origin 1 News and Views

2013 NRL Premiership

By W D Nicolson - May 23, 2013

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The confirmed NSW and QLD Game 1 Teams are here

NSW cannot afford to overload on backrowers... again.

The good news entering Origin 1 is that the actual NSW coach - Laurie Daley - is the one selecting his squad this year... with the help of Chief Advisor Bob Fulton (who we all hope still knows a thing or two about picking quality sides).

But Daley's close relationship with the Daily Telegraph and Fox Sports basically means that if you have followed either media trail in the last two months - his views on a variety of players' chances have pretty much been played out in the press the next day.

If the Telegraph started talking up Blake Ferguson - odds are they got a good line from Daley about how he viewed the Canberra outside back a few hourse earlier... same goes for the current campaign to put Paul Gallen at prop and maybe bring Willie Mason back into the squad for his experience.

Admittedly - under Ricky Stuart - the same leaks to the press occurred given the former NSW coach's relationship with the Telegraph (but not the same with Fox Sports however), but unless my memory serves me poorly - Craig Bellamy wasn't quite as up front with the press.

But the focus of this comment is the number of backrowers NSW have kept picking every series as they try to overcome the class of the Queensland team... especially in the past two years.

And you know who is to blame for this trend?

Andrew Johns.

When Joey returned to the Origin cauldron in 2005... NSW picked no less than 3 backrowers on their bench in all three games.

It was something you can afford to do when you've got a player like Johns in a dominant role. But not when you haven't got a player like Johns... as Ricky Stuart found out the past two series.

Now here is NSW's pack for that 2005 series - the last time NSW tasted success in an Origin Series... most interestingly with the likes of Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, Petero Civoniceva, Cameron Smith and Ashley Harrison in the QLD lineup.
Big shoutout to the excellent Rugby League resource that is Rugby League Project
2005 Series:  2 - 1 
Game 1 | QLD won 24-20 (no Johns): 
NSW Pack/Bench: L Bailey, D Buderus, J Ryles, N Hindmarsh, C Fitzgibbon, B Kennedy. C Wing, S Simpson, A Ryan, A Watmough.
Game 2 | NSW won 32-22 (with Johns):
NSW Pack/Bench: J Ryles, D Buderus, L Bailey, N Hindmarsh, C Fitzgibbon, B Kennedy. C Wing, S Simpson, A Ryan, S Menzies.
Game 3 | NSW won 32-10 (with Johns):
NSW Pack/Bench: J Ryles, D Buderus, L Bailey, N Hindmarsh, C Fitzgibbon, B Kennedy. S Simpson, C Gower, A Ryan, S Menzies.

So let's be honest - Johns was a genius, but NSW went into all three games with only TWO genuine props, with Simpson playing as a prop off the bench despite being a backrower at club level.

So how badly have NSW tried to copy this tactic in recent seasons... despite lacking a player like Johns in the #7.
2012 Series:  2 - 1 
Game 1 | QLD won 18-10 (Stewart-Carney-Pearce-Farah at 1/6/7/9): 
NSW Pack/Bench: P Gallen, R Farah, J Tamou, G Stewart, L Lewis, G Bird. T Merrin, J Buhrer, B Creagh, T Williams.
QLD Pack/Bench: M Scott, C Smith, P Civoniceva, N Myles, S Thaiday, A Harrison. M Gillett, D Taylor, B Hannant, D Shillington.
Game 2 | NSW won 16-12 (Stewart-Carney-Pearce-Farah at 1/6/7/9):
NSW Pack/Bench: T Grant, R Farah, J Tamou, G Stewart, G Bird, P Gallen. T Merrin, L Lewis, B Creagh, A Watmough.
QLD Pack/Bench: M Scott, C Smith, P Civoniceva, N Myles, D Taylor, A Harrison. M Gillett, C Parker, B Hannant, D Shillington.
Game 3 | QLD won 21-20 (Stewart-Carney-Pearce-Farah at 1/6/7/9): 
NSW Pack/Bench: T Grant, R Farah, J Tamou, B Scott, G Bird, P Gallen. T Williams, L Lewis, B Creagh, A Watmough.
QLD Pack/Bench: M Scott, C Smith, P Civoniceva, N Myles, S Thaiday, C Parker. M Gillett, B Te'o, B Hannant, D Shillington.

By my count NSW picked just one front rower across all three games in James Tamou, went with a then prop Trent Merrin off the bench in Game 1 and 2, brought Tim Grant in to start Game 2 and 3, and used Anthony Watmough off the bench at lock (with Gallen moving to prop from lock) in Game 2 and 3. Not mention trying to convert an edge backrower in Ben Creagh into a bench prop for all three games.

So in any one game - with Gallen considered another a hybrid and Merrin barely playing - NSW went in with just TWO regular props.

Those are some cold hard facts in terms of the lack of props NSW have picked to take on just one element of Queensland's strength.

Which apart from half a dozen superstars in their prime - has been the strength and depth of their front row rotation.

Look at just last year - Scott, Civoniceva, Hannant and Shillington played every game, so as NSW went in with just two (and a bit) regular props.

Stuart tried the same thing in 2011 - teaming Jamie Soward with Mitchell Pearce in the halves and Michael Ennis at hooker (the real issue separating the teams in the last seven series - because you simply cannot win without class in your halves and at hooker... don't get me started on the persistence with Ennis over Robbie Farah debacle) and picking a thousand backrowers to backup his two and a bit props that simply weren't capable of matching the QLD prop rotation.

2011 Series:  2 - 1 
Game 1 | QLD won 16-12 (Dugan-Soward-Pearce-Ennis at 1/6/7/9): 
NSW Pack/Bench: J King, D Young, K Snowden, B Scott, G Bird, P Gallen. M Ennis, B Creagh, T Merrin, T Mannah.
QLD Pack/Bench: M Scott, C Smith, P Civoniceva, N Myles, S Thaiday, A Harrison. C Cronk, C Parker, J Lillyman, B Hannant.
Game 2 | NSW won 18-8 (Minichiello-Soward-Pearce-Ennis at 1/6/7/9):
NSW Pack/Bench: T Mannah, M Ennis, P Gallen, B Scott, B Creagh, G Bird. T Merrin, K Gidley, A Watmough, L Lewis.
QLD Pack/Bench: M Scott, C Smith, P Civoniceva, N Myles, S Thaiday, A Harrison. C Cronk, C Parker, D Taylor, B Hannant.
Game 3 | QLD won 34-24 (Minichiello-Soward-Pearce-Ennis at 1/6/7/9): 
NSW Pack/Bench: T Mannah, M Ennis, P Gallen, B Creagh, G Stewart, G Bird. K Gidley, A Watmough, L Lewis, K Galloway.
QLD Pack/Bench: M Scott, C Smith, P Civoniceva, N Myles, S Thaiday, A Harrison. C Cronk, C Parker, J Lillyman, B Hannant.

We could go back further but the point is made.

In the past six games NSW have sent just one prop rotation of three or more regular front rowers into Origin clashes with QLD.

That was Game 1 2011 when J King, K Snowden, T Mannah and T Merrin suited up for the Blues.

Compare that to Game 3 2012 when just T Grant and J Tamou took the field as genuine props along with Gallen starting at lock.

And all the while QLD have stocked up deluxe on big boys both starting and on the bench.

Now NSW have improved their playmaking situation markedly since the 2011 series, first bringing in Farah and Carney last year and it looks like Jarryd Hayne will be returned to his best spot of fullback for Game 1 in a few weeks.

But the NSW obsession with backrowers is a concern... mainly because as we read about Daley's views in the press - he wants to put Gallen back at prop to accommodate another backrower... possibly the still underdone Glenn Stewart.

Now that's not to say that the backrowers NSW have been picking can't play - but when QLD keep rolling out big men off the bench, the Blues simply haven't been able to fight fire with fire as the game has dragged on. Last year in particular - James Tamou was a revelation in the early exchanges but when Stuart finally brought him back on in the second half, he was fighting a one man battle up front. Gallen tried his guts out but was injured all last series and Stuart relied on his backrowers for minutes in the second halves of games last year - not Grant or Merrin.

If you've got a dominant half (or ideally two dominant halves) you can get away with a backrower heavy bench... but when your opposition is merciless in bashing you up the middle and you haven't got that combination of x-factors in attack to make that match winning play - you need more than just two big boppers.

So come Game 1 this year - NSW are probably going with the below team if the most recent Daley 'mail' can be believed.

Right now it looks like Daley's leaked info says that Aaron Woods is out of the running (somehow???), Andrew Fifita's run of hot form won't be enough and wildcard (and prop) Willie Mason might miss out to... another backrower like Glenn Stewart or the real smokey Boyd Cordner!

The other talk centres around leaving Gidley out and playing Lewis as the utility on the bench... which perhaps opens up a spot for another prop... maybe.

Admittedly if I had a say - I'd leave Hoffman and Stewart out and play the following pack - which is all about giving Farah, Hayne, Pearce and probably Maloney (though I'm happy with either him or Carney in the #6) as much time as possible behind a prop rotation that can carve out metres the whole game.

My NSW Pack/Bench: A Woods, R Farah, J Tamou, G Bird, L Lewis, P Gallen. K Gidley, T Merrin, A Fifita, A Watmough.
Likely NSW Pack/Bench: P Gallen, R Farah, J Tamou, L Lewis, R Hoffman, G Bird. K Gidley, T Merrin, A Watmough, A Fifita.
Likely QLD Pack/Bench: M Scott, C Smith, P Civoniceva, N Myles, S Thaiday, A Harrison. C Cronk, C Parker, J Lillyman, B Hannant.

25 May Update: Great to see Daley probably come to his senses and pick Fifita on his bench. NSW now have that three and a bit prop factor... looking promising.

PS. After bleating on about backrower overload above - I will say that with Hayne-Farah-Maloney/Carney in the squad for Game 1 - NSW might finally have the firepower to create points this year... in every game. Now that's exciting... even if picking 42 backrowers in one tea isn't.

Do you think NSW have been picking too many backrowers recently? IF you think four props are the way to go - who would you pick?
Please comment below or reply on Twitter.
NSW Likely Squad for Game 1
J Hayne, B Ferguson, M Jennings, J Morris, B Morris, J Maloney, M Pearce, P Gallen (c), R Farah, J Tamou, L Lewis, R Hoffman, G Bird.
Bench: K Gidley, T Merrin, A Watmough, A Fifita.
SKINNY: Question marks on the wing and at prop... still down to Maloney v Carney for the #6. Looks like a lack of time to recover will beat Brett Morris. Though there has been talk Kurt Gidley might not be there - he reinforced his value as a utility on Sunday. It's only a gut feel but I have a feeling Jack Wighton might be Daley's 18 or 19th man...
Our full NSW Squad Analysis is here
QLD Likely Squad for Game 1
B Slater, D Boyd (Rd11 injury), G Inglis, J Hodges, B Tate, J Thurston, C Cronk, M Scott, C Smith (c), D Shillington, S Thaiday, N Myles, A Harrison.
Bench: C Parker, B Te'o, M Gillett, M Kennedy or if they play one less big man - D Cherry-Evans.
SKINNY: Hannant's injury opens up a major chance for whoever is good enough for a spot on the bench... Will Chambers missing Round 10 probably put him behind Justin O'Neill to be Hodges' emergency backup with Dane Nielsen only just coming back from injury. The 'roll of the dice' option for QLD is to pick another fullback on the wing and move Tate to right centre (remember you read it here first). DCE and Gillett on the bench seems overkill, especially if they can pick another big bopper.
Our full QLD Squad Analysis is here
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