Must win. Sudden death. No tomorrow.
Paul Gallen knew all those cliches applied to the second instalment of Origin 2012. Sydney turned on the kind of weather reserved for these interstate clashes: wet, windy and wintry.
Normally I’m never too enthused by trips to Homebush, having sat too many times in the cavernous ANZ Stadium when it’s been barely a quarter full for bog-standard NRL games better suited to the suburban grounds. But when it’s full, it’s hard to top the sight of a heaving Olympic Stadium. All the tickets were gone.
Our seats were in the Blatchy’s Blues, those 12,000 wig-wearing maniacs behind the goals. The northern end was a sea of blue – besides, inexplicably, that one maroon wig that stood out like a red-penned correction on an essay written in blue. Fortunately, the game didn’t provide him much to cheer about.
The atmosphere was surprisingly still. The ‘New South Wales’ chant went up regularly, and with proper oomph when the Blues bravely defended their own line in the last quarter hour, but in the meantime it was a perch-on-the-edge-of-your-seat type of affair.
Usually at club games you get people yelling at every play. “Get ’em onside, ref!” or “Send it wide,” or “Run straight, Mini”. But not last night, as if the crowd was happy to let the action unfold at its rapid pace without trying to interfere. Maybe it was genuine nervousness, as the Blues flirted with Origin oblivion.
But NSW were terrific. Robbie Farah’s 63 tackles cemented his status as a fair dinkum ‘Origin player’, this indescribable quality that has been the source of much discussion recently. The running theory seems to be that Queensland feed average first-graders some magic elixir that NSW doesn’t have access to.
Well whatever this interstate mojo is, Greg Bird must drink pints of it before a game. As must Paul Gallen. Tim Grant and Jimmy Tamou had a swig because they bent the line every time they ran it. Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart brought the requisite mongrel. The backs were shaky and the halves are still learning but NSW took their opportunities, capitalising on Cooper Cronk’s absence to establish what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
When the siren sounded on the 16-12 victory, the feeling was more job well done, rather than unbridled elation. Nothing was decided last night on Homebush – that will have to wait until Lang Park in three weeks time. As someone who optimistically booked their Game Three trip to Brisbane in March, perhaps I was happier than most that the series will be taken to a decider.
Do the Blues have a chance of wresting the trophy from Queensland’s vice-like grip? In the first two games, the Maroons superstars haven’t really fired. Cameron Smith has been solid and Storm team-mate Cooper Cronk played an electrifying Game Two, but Billy Slater looks uncharacteristically rocky and Thurston was very quiet at Homebush. Are they primed to explode in the Suncorp showdown, or are they genuinely out of nick?