State of Origin 2020: Qld Maroons vs NSW Blues, Game III, James Tedesco, Nathan Cleary, Cody Walker
Brad Fittler experienced his first series loss as coach of New South Wales on Wednesday. As did majority of his star-studded squad.
Sure, Queensland won by just six points, but they turned up ready to fight and not willing to make excuses — an attitude that NRL great Cooper Cronk says NSW lacked.
The Blues were rocked in the 20th minute when they lost their skipper and best player in fullback James Tedesco to a head knock. Fittler reshuffled his line-up and shifted the very capable Clint Gutherson into the key position but from the moment Tedesco left the field NSW lost their confidence.
But they shouldn’t have. They still had the Dally M Halfback of the Year Nathan Cleary as well as the likes of Damien Cook, Josh Addo-Carr and Jake Trbojevic among many others. Players oozing with skill and a heap of big game experience.
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Cronk, who played 22 games for Queensland, believes NSW had the team to conquer QLD even without Tedesco
“Losing Tedesco hurt big time. But they are back-to-back series champions, they should have found a way,” Cronk said on Origin Footy on Fox.
“There’s been moments in times over the great Origin teams where players don’t play and you just find a way.
“You can’t just rely on one person to be the difference.
I just think they had enough people on that field, enough Origin experience to cover the loss of Tedesco.”
THE TEDDY EFFECT
No doubt Wednesday’s loss will be a valuable lesson for the Blues — both Fittler and his men.
After Queensland five-eight Cameron Munster was wiped out of Game II early from a head knock, Fittler considered carrying a utility for that reason in Game III. It was Ryan Papenhuyzen who was in the conversation to take that spot on the bench, but ultimately Fittler decided to go with four big bodies on the bench — something that NSW benefited from in Game II.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Fox League analyst Michael Ennis believes Papenhuyzen’s presence would have been a huge help.
“I do think (Tedesco) was too big a loss to recover from given their bench and that worked from them really well in Sydney but without a Ryan Papenhuyzen on the bench or a genuine utility… Isaah Yeo did his best, he tried so hard in that right centre position up against one of the form players of the series in Dane Gagai,” he told Origin Footy on Fox.
Fittler and his players probably already knew it but this year’s series cemented it. Hands down Tedesco is their weapon. Ennis believes says the 2019 Dally M Medal winner holds the key to bringing out the best in the playmakers around him.
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“James Tedesco has owned many moments whether it be in grand finals or in the Origin series over recent years,” he said.
“I think when that game started to get in the balance I do think he would have made a difference. He is the player in that line-up — hence why Freddy gave him the captaincy — that players turn to.
“I think Tedesco has such a ripple effect on players in that side. He makes Cody Walker a better player, I think he makes Damien Cook a better player and I think he certainly makes Nathan Cleary a better player.
“He doesn’t hesitate, he goes after the moments, he’s tough, he’s always in the game, he never leaves the contest and he finds guys who start to fatigue and get vulnerable and (NSW) didn’t have that tonight.”
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
Besides a few big moments from Cleary, NSW’s key men were very quiet. In fact, you could argue Cook was miles away from his best and Walker was no where to be seen.
We’ve seen how dangerous Cook and Walker’s combination is when they line up for the Rabbitohs and we saw it come alive in Game II. But when the pressure was on they couldn’t catch the flame.
Other than Tedesco and Nathan Brown — who only played 12 minutes — Cook and Walker had the least running metres for the Blues. That might not seem too much of a concern, but these boys run and are brilliant at it.
Their game management, along with Cleary, left a lot to be desired as well.
There’s no doubt all three are sensational players… but what happened? Was it the pressure?
Cronk — one of the calmest minds under pressure — believes who someone performs under pressure is what really defines an Origin player.
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“I just wonder with Nathan Cleary, Cody Walker and even Damien Cook as far as game management goes, I think NSW really came up short there,” Paul Kent told Origin Footy on Fox.
“That’s exactly what Origin is about. Can you do this when your back is against the wall and the ball isn’t going your way,” Cronk responded.
“Everyone can play football when the ball bounces your way, can you do it when the ball isn’t going your way? Can you do it when you’re under pressure? And can you come up with the best play? NSW didn’t do that.”
Ennis says the trio will probably be disappointed with their performance and hopes they’ll take some lessons out of it.
“There’s a few moments in the back of the game that I think Cleary would like his time over again,” he said.
“I thought Cody Walker let the game get away from him, only the last 15 minutes before he was unfortunately knocked out did he really start to inject himself into the game. I thought his first half was quiet. But in saying that there hasn’t been that many halves who can dictate a contest when they’re on the back foot.
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“I think when Cleary sits back and watches this game — and Walker — because it can’t all be on Cleary’s shoulders and Damien Cook needs to take some responsibility too… that they’d gone in there with that plan to move the ball with a couple of passes wide of the ruck.
“They just stuck to that plan of trying to move the footy without just rolling their sleeves up.
“Nathan, Damien and Cody should have stripped it back and said ‘let’s carry through the middle of these blokes, let’s flood their ruck and take some fatigue out of their middle, take some fatigue out of their linespeed… let’s start to win the right to get momentum back.”