Dylan Napa of the Maroons is tackled by Nathan Peats (left) and David Klemmer of the Blues.
Dylan Napa of the Maroons is tackled by Nathan Peats (left) and David Klemmer of the Blues. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Report card: Walters masterstroke laid platform for Maroons

BRINGING Billy Slater back into the Queensland side was a no-brainer.

The backline reshuffle needed to accommodate the great champion was where the real thinking had to be done.

The result was a huge gamble: Darius Boyd in an unfamiliar centre position inside a rookie winger, with a new right-hand-side centre-wing combination to clash with Jarryd Hayne and Brett Morris.

It was here that Kevin Walters hit on his biggest tactical masterstroke yet, with the Will Chambers-Dane Gagai combination becoming the Maroons' most potent weapon.

They were the game-breakers but plenty of other calls went right and we review every facet of Queensland's game with our Origin II report card.


Dylan Napa, welcome to Origin. Everyone expected the big firebrand to stand up in this arena and in just his second game he delivered with gusto.

Thrown into the fray as the enforcer to stand up to a strong NSW pack, Napa was Matt Scott-like in his second stint on the field, taking tough carries when his side needed the forwards to aim up and put them into a position to win the game.

Running the ball 14 times, Napa made 116 metres and backed it up on the other side of the ball, where he made 25 tackles, many of them thumping hits to get Andrew Fifita to the deck.

His running mate for the night was Josh McGuire, who made 42 tackles to go with his 116 metres from 13 runs.

Succeeding Corey Parker is no easy task but McGuire has shown plenty of minerals in the first two Origin games and he looks to have taken on the responsibility of pack leader.

The rest of the pack was a mixed bag with skipper Cameron Smith eclipsing his unusually quiet series opener without dominating as he can.

Gavin Cooper was outstanding with 95 running metres and a team-leading 47 tackles as the Blues targeted his channel to get at Johnathan Thurston - more often than not unsuccessfully as JT's bodyguard came to the rescue.

On the other edge, Matt Gillett was also sensational in defence, making good decisions every time he rushed out of the line to put the Blues attack back on its heels.

The only anonymous starter was Jarrod Wallace who didn't get back on after his opening stint of 22 minutes, that included two runs and 15 tackles.

Mark: 7.5/10


Johnathan Thurston (left) of the Maroons passes the ball as he is tackled by Mitchell Pearce of the Blues.
Johnathan Thurston (left) of the Maroons passes the ball as he is tackled by Mitchell Pearce of the Blues. PAUL MILLER


By no means was this the most polished or menacing display you'll ever see from Johnathan Thurston, but my gosh it was brave, and in the end it was telling.

Captain Smith spoke in an awe-struck tone of the champion half in the press conference after the game when quizzed on the match winning conversion.

"He's the best," Smith said, and that was that.

Nerves of steel with the kick to win it was one thing but the courage he showed to finish the game with his shoulder hanging out of its socket was something else.

Tyson Frizell is one of the game's most punishing ball runners and he thundered over the top of Thurston over and over in the first half.

After one such moment in the 29th minute, Thurston reeled away from the contact with his right arm hanging limply by his side.

Two minutes later he kicked the ball out on the full with Frizell bearing down on him from the inside and at that point you wondered whether the pain he was in would get the better of him.

Of course it didn't. In the second half he was at his scheming best, once stepping through the line as Queensland threatened late, on several other occasions choosing the right time to tumble the ball over the sideline.

Cooper Cronk had a linebreak and a linebreak assist and was his usual collected self without ever truly imposing himself on the contest or threatening to win the game.

Mark: 7/10


Dane Gagai of the Maroons scores the match-winning try during State of Origin game two.
Dane Gagai of the Maroons scores the match-winning try during State of Origin game two. DAN HIMBRECHTS


This was Walters' biggest win of the night, with the move to get Slater back in the side paying off with his famous left to right sweep play creating the space for Gagai to score the match-levelling try at the death.

Up until that point Slater had been industrial but largely well held by NSW, with the champion unable to make too much of an impact off kick returns or through the ruck, although he did run 16 times for 116 metres.

But it was on the right hand side where the Maroons won the game, with Gagai playing another outstanding Origin game with two tries, seven tackle busts and 174 running metres.

The winger was very close to best afield, although those numbers wouldn't have been half as good if not for the wily centre play of Chambers and then bench utility Michael Morgan, with both making space for the winger on his outside and inside at crucial times in the game.

Both were bundled over the sideline while NSW were in control but sensing a weakness in the Blues' defensive line on that side, Queensland kept going to the well and they got their result.

Boyd was his usual professional self, if a little quiet, and he threw the final ball for Holmes to score the opening try.

Holmes played a mixed game with several errors but he was a handful out of dummy half and was good for his spot in the end.

Mark: 8.5/10


Tim Glasby of the Maroons is tackled by Nathan Peats (left) and Jake Trbojevic of the Blues.
Tim Glasby of the Maroons is tackled by Nathan Peats (left) and Jake Trbojevic of the Blues. DAN HIMBRECHTS


It wasn't a good start for the Maroons' bench with a hole opening up for James Tedesco between Tim Glasby and Josh Papalii virtually as soon as they got on the field.

Both finished up grasping at thin air as the Blues' explosive fullback scythed through before setting up Mitchell Pearce for a try that put Queensland behind the eight ball.

But to their credit both ended up contributing, with Glasby running eight times for 69 metres and making eight tackles, while Papalii shored up the middle with 17 tackles to go with 87 running metres from nine runs.

Walters was very cautious with his use of young hulk Coen Hess, with the 20-year-old who generally plays on an edge for the Cowboys, playing an 18-minute second half stint in the middle.

He admitted he was "blowing" by the time he was taken off with five minutes remaining but he held firm in the defensive line with 11 tackles without ever looking like being the attacking weapon some expected.

Michael Morgan though, was one of the big difference-makers when the game was on a knife's edge. Every time the Maroons threatened he was in the thick of it.

NSW put in an outstanding effort to deny him a try in the last minute of the first half, but not to be denied, Morgan was the man to throw the killer ball to Gagai down the right hand side as the clock wound down, with Chambers off the field concussed.

Mark: 7.5/10


Maroons coach Kevin Walters.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters. AAP Image/David Moir


Make no mistake, Walters was under serious pressure coming into this game, with some reports suggesting his job was on the line if he lost the series.

At half-time he looked every bit the man under pressure but he held his nerve and in the end it was some of his bravest coaching moves that made the difference.

From bringing Slater back into the team, to leaving matchwinner Gagai on the wing to play Boyd in an unfamiliar centre role, it all seemed to work.

Not just that, Walters didn't hide from the fact that it was important to stop Andrew Fifita having a dominant game and the tactics to stop the man who drew comparisons to Arthur Beetson after game one worked a treat.

Fifita didn't flop but he didn't trouble the Queensland defensive line near as much as in game one and credit must go to the deliberate planning for him.

Mark: 9/10

News Corp Australia

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