Matty Johns: How middle-of-the-road Blues can win
For NSW to make their most of the strengths in Origin II on Sunday night, it's down to their halves pairing to stretch Queensland's defence to breaking point, writes MATTY JOHNS. SUBSCRIBE NOW TO READ MORE.
The Blues, for the best part of the last decade, have adopted the left-side/right-side approach to how their halves operate on the field.
They split the field in half, the five-eighth is charge of the left, the halfback the right, or vice versa.
It's restrictive and tends to clog the midfield because it leads to both halves playing like No.7s and the ball being constantly reset to the middle, which happens to be the easiest position from where a side can defend.
Basically, all resetting the middle does is resets the defence.
Things were definitely about to change.
By selecting Mitchell Pearce at No.7, Blues coach Brad Fittler was getting a halfback who would control the full width of the attacking space, therefore forcing Nathan Cleary to play like a more traditional five-eighth, complimenting Pearce and ensuring that when Mitchell took the attack to one edge, rather than reset in the middle, he was able to get the ball to the opposite edge as rapidly as possible.
A shot/shot philosophy.
Hit them on one side of the field to gather numbers, and shorten the defence line, then immediately send the ball to the other side, seizing the numerical advantage.
This type of football also tires the opposition's middle defenders and leaves them vulnerable, as the game goes on, to fast men like Damien Cook and James Tedesco, and clever playmaking forwards like Cameron Murray and Jake Trbojevic.
Pearce pulling out through injury shouldn't change the principles of how Fittler was going to play game two.
James Maloney and Cleary are a quality combination and, crucially, have an excellent understanding.
But for this combination to create a greater threat, Freddy needs Maloney to take on the role of primary playmaker and first receiver as Pearce would have done, and give Nathan the role of creating width.
Creating width and presenting a wide threat doesn't just bring the outside backs into play, it loosens the middle defence and brings Cook and Tedesco to the fore.
The strength of the Blues' attack lies in the centre field and it's not just the fast feet of the hooker and the fullback.
Jake Trbojevic is so clever with the football, and with his brother Tom roaming infield to form a combination, is a big weapon.
Likewise Dale Finucane has smarts and will worry a tiring middle with his short passing.
Murray off the bench was brilliant is game one. Even when Queensland had all the running, he caused big problems.
The middle is where NSW will eventually win the contest, but only if the Maroons are loosened with ball movement.