Drastic action Queensland must take to stay alive
QUEENSLAND coach Kevin Walters won't fly into hysterics or throw the baby out with the bathwater after one loss - he's too calm a customer for that.
So we thought we'd do it for him.
As Walters said after Wednesday night's 22-12 defeat to NSW in Melbourne, the effort was there from his troops but the execution wasn't. If the Blues play to their potential in Game 2, effort won't be enough to save the Maroons from a series defeat.
Here's what they need to change to give themselves a chance at keeping the series alive with a win in Sydney on June 24.
INJECT AN X-FACTOR
Kalyn Ponga must play in Sydney.
The livewire Newcastle fullback is the X-factor needed in a Queensland side that lacked spark without retired playmakers Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
Michael Morgan was wasted at fullback, having been shifted there following Billy Slater's withdrawal with a hamstring injury. The Cowboys playmaker was largely invisible in attack, failing to inject himself into the play when the Maroons had the ball in promising field position.
Ponga can do things regular humans can't and while he's only 20, there's no point holding the boy wonder back with the series on the line.
BRING BACK SCOTT
Matt Scott was controversially overlooked for the series opener but Queensland must recall the Cowboys prop to add some much needed grunt up front.
Starting front-rower Jarrod Wallace had just three hit-ups for the entire match and while partner in crime Dylan Napa tried hard, he failed to deliver the gamebreaking impact that was required.
Felise Kaufusi and Josh McGuire both provided plenty of starch but the support cast of Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess failed to fire. The Maroons need more from their big men and Scott - a veteran of 22 Origins - can lead from the front.
GO FOR ALL-OUT ATTACK
Queensland lacked its usual polish in attack - which is to be expected when you lose so many established stars in key positions - and needs to take risks to overcome that.
The Maroons were unable to break the Blues defence via traditional means as their tries came from an intercept and a kick. Ben Hunt pulled the strings and controlled things well but he was unable to spark any linebreaks.
Five-eighth Cameron Munster threatened when he challenged defenders but again, his powerful running game was unable to split the line when his side needed it most.
Adding Ponga to the bench will provide some much needed flair and if Walters feels like taking a risk, he should move Morgan to the centres in place of Will Chambers, who was well below his best at the MCG.
After halftime Hunt can take over the hooking duties from Andrew McCullough and Ponga can replace the starting No. 9. That will put Queensland's most potent attacking weapons of Slater (reinstated at fullback), Ponga, Hunt, Morgan and Munster on the field at the same time, giving them the biggest chance to make a dent on the scoreboard.
WE'LL HAVE WHAT HE'S HAVING
Greg Inglis was scary good on Wednesday night, from damaging runs where he swatted defenders away with ease to bone-crunching hits that Tom Trbojevic and Nathan Cleary won't soon forget.
Kevin Walters said his side would have won if it had 17 Inglises and while we doubt the banana benders have the capacity to clone up north, the next best they can do is feed everyone whatever the new skipper was chowing down on before the game.
Angry pills with a side of pasta, perhaps?
Barring that, sitting the troops down - particularly the forward pack - and showing them every single one of Inglis's carries and tackles wouldn't be a bad move. The captain epitomised the intensity every player needs to show for Queensland to bounce back.
Maroons icon Wally Lewis said Inglis "almost embarrassed the forwards into doing more work than they were", such was his physicality.
Queensland can't afford for anyone to be embarrassed come Game 2.
The problem for Queensland is while it has plenty of improvement left in it, so too does NSW.
Blues coach Brad Fittler said his side only performed at 70-80 per cent, and there's every reason to believe his troops will be even better in Game 2. Here's why.
'BABY BLUES' WILL GROW UP
The nerves and fear of the unknown won't be as big a factor for Freddy's "Baby Blues" next time the two sides meet at ANZ Stadium.
The 11 debutants who wore the sky blue jersey for the first time in Melbourne will be better for the run now they know what to expect and a Game 1 win will give them confidence they belong at the next level, which may well spur them on to greater heights on June 24.
MOST IMPORTANT BATTLE IS BETWEEN THE EARS
So often over the past 12 years you got the feeling NSW was beaten before it even took the field because of the aura surrounding superstars Thurston, Smith and Cronk.
With the retired trio out of the way all the pressure was on the Blues, who were installed as favourites and expected to dominate a new Maroons outfit. But there was still trepidation before Game 1 and question marks over whether Fittler's inexperienced side could make the most of the golden opportunity it had been waiting years for.
A loss would have been catastrophic and ensured the mental scars remained for another series, but a first-up win will do the Blues a world of good knowing they've lived up to expectations.
They showed a ruthlessness that's been lacking for too long and NSW will breathe a huge sigh of relief in the knowledge that - given the opportunity - it can exploit Queensland's losses.
THE FORMULA WORKS
Former NSW skipper Paul Gallen said he was surprised at NSW's approach in the first half. When all expected the Blues to use their speed men out wide, much of the early damage was done through the middle.
"The game plan from the Blues was something we didn't expect," Gallen told Channel 9. "We expected them to go wide to the outside backs with speed on the edges but they went through the middle."
Brad Fittler can rest easy knowing his game plan - to bruise the Maroons through the middle before throwing more ball to the outside men - works.
The first-time Origin coach must have been nervous wondering if his bold approach in overlooking players' possible defensive frailties in favour of their attacking threat would pay dividends.
Greg Inglis fended off James Roberts more than once but the damage was limited and the debutant centre earned a pass mark for his defence. Latrell Mitchell stood up to his defensive responsibilities while wingers Josh Addo-Carr and Tom Trbojevic both did the tough stuff out of their own end - something pundits were concerned may have been missing from an attack-heavy back five.
The players received a much needed confidence boost but so too did Fittler, which bodes well for NSW.