The representative weekend produced the customary thrills, spills and talking points.
The Blues levelled the men’s Origin series with a landslide victory, the Women’s State of Origin delivered another classic encounter, the Kiwis made an emphatic statement on the back of Joey Manu’s mind-blowing performance and the Kumuls staked a World Cup claim with an upset victory.
1 – Freddy Vindicated As Blues Bounce Back In Perth
Already in the gun for some contentious selection calls ahead of NSW’s series-opening loss, Blues coach Brad Fittler was panned after making five changes for the must-win game two assignment in Perth.
But ‘Freddy’s’ alterations were integral to a rampant 44-12 victory over Queensland on Sunday night.
Controversial game one omission Jake Trbojevic produced one of the great NSW front-row displays.
Immediately tightening up the Blues’ brittle middle with his line speed and rabid defensive enthusiasm, ‘Jurbo’ also led all forwards on the paddock with 17 runs for 148 metres.
Trbojevic’s platform ultimately paved the way to six unanswered tries in the last 42 minutes and a man-of-the-match performance from series-opening whipping boy Nathan Cleary, who bounced back with a kicking masterclass and two tries to silence the doubters.
The injection of Matt Burton and Api Koroisau also came up trumps.
The result was a boon for overs punters, with only five previous Origin matches producing a bigger aggregate than Sunday’s 56 points – which breezed past the total points line of 38.5.
The Blues’ tally was the fourth-highest in Origin history, while the winning margin was the equal-biggest for the second game of a series – matching their 38-6 drubbing of the Maroons in Perth in 2019.
2 – No Panic Needed From Bruised Maroons
The scale of the WA defeat was undoubtedly jarring, but Queensland can take a few positives into the decider.
After twice grabbing the lead in the first half via Kalyn Ponga-inspired tries, the Maroons plummeted on the back of a polarising sin-bin call against Felise Kaufusi just before the break.
The Blues scored immediately and the Maroons never recovered from an exhausting opening period of the second half with 12 men.
Leaking so profusely in defence as the match wore on was disappointing yet not overly surprising given their 40 percent share of possession and 800-metre deficit in run metres.
Daly Cherry-Evans and Game 1 puppeteer Cameron Munster were reduced to the role of bystanders, while Billy Slater’s curiously economical use of Josh Papalii for the second straight game didn’t work without injured force of nature Reuben Cotter’s barnstorming contribution.
Cotter’s hopeful return for Jai Arrow is the only likely change for Game 3, but history overwhelmingly favours the Maroons as the rivals prepare for the Suncorp Stadium showdown on July 13.
NSW has won just five of 20 State of Origin deciders. In the past 16 series – which have witnessed nine deciders – the Blues’ only victory was in a last-minute thriller in Sydney in 2019.
Meanwhile, Queensland have won 12 of the last 15 clashes overall (and the last five straight deciders) in the Suncorp Stadium cauldron.
The Maroons opened as $2.25 underdogs to triumph in Game 3… but the Blues are staring down a new set of obstacles to pull off what would arguably be their greatest-ever win in a decider.
3 – Joey And Jahrome Put Kangaroos On Notice
As Australia’s World Cup defenders engage in State of Origin battle, New Zealand fired a rousing pre-tournament warning shot with a 26-6 defeat of international rugby league darlings Mate Ma’a Tonga at a sold-out Mt Smart Stadium.
Sydney Roosters centre Joey Manu provided a tantalisingly reminder of his ability as a fullback by breaking the mythical 400-metre barrier in a ridiculous performance.
Jahrome Hughes – Melbourne’s fullback and a bench utility for the Kiwis when he broke into the international arena in 2019 – underlined his status as one of the game’s elite No.7s.
Dylan Brown had two try-assists and a line-break on Test debut, while Brandon Smith was a constant handful from dummy-half.
And while experience and class in the spine was the clear difference between the teams, the powerhouse engine-room efforts of James Fisher-Harris, Joseph Tapine, Moses Leota and co. – dominating their vaunted Tonga counterparts – is the aspect of the Kiwis’ win that would have Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga on high alert.
New Zealand’s ascent to No.1 in the IRL rankings and Australia’s farcical slip to fourth has rendered a trans-Tasman final impossible.
The neighbouring heavyweights are on a semi-final collision course at Elland Road in Leeds.
The Kangaroos are $1.36 favourites to retain the trophy in November…but the $6 Kiwis are the value option at present.
4 – Another Women’s Origin Classic Highlights Need For Series
For the fifth straight year since its 2018 inception, the Women’s State of Origin match delivered with interest on the scale of intensity, quality, passion and competitiveness.
Narrow favourite NSW snapped Queensland’s two-year grip on the shield and reclaimed the lead in the head-to-head ledger 3-2 with a 20-14 victory in Canberra on Friday night.
The fullback battle between the Blues’ opening tryscorer, Emma Tonegato, and Maroons defensive miracle worker Tamika Upton was an absolute barnburner, NSW No.7 Kirra Dibb scored a dazzling solo try to narrowly outshine Queensland taliswoman Ali Brigginshaw, and Isabelle Kelly became the first player to win two Nellie Doherty Medals after capping a 190-metre performance with a late match-sealing try.
These contests are simply too good to be restricted to one a season. Rumblings for a three-match format will soon become a roar.
5 – Kumuls Emerge As World Cup Smoky
Tonga stole the hearts of the rugby league world in 2017 and loom as genuine contenders for the Old Trafford final in November.
But World Cup poolmates Papua New Guinea are well-placed to steal a march on Tonga if its 24-14 upset of star-studded Fiji is any gauge.
Halfback Lachlan Lam’s two-try display, five-eighth Kyle Laybutt’s defensive courage, centre Justin Olam’s dynamic performance – coupling 155 metres with two try-assists – and the unassuming Kumuls pack’s grit and energy up against the likes of Fijian giants Kikau and Kamikamica ensured it was a night to remember at Campbelltown for the 10.5-point underdogs.
Meanwhile, Samoa cruised to a 42-12 win over Cook Islands with David Nofoaluma racking up four tries.
But given the disparity in experience and quality between the line-ups and Samoa’s 20-0 lead after 21 minutes, it was a somewhat underwhelming result for Matt Parish’s side.
The match between Tonga, rated a $12 World Cup chance, and Papua New Guinea ($51) is destined to be the pivotal standout of the World Cup’s group stage, with the winner will likely progress to a quarter-final against Samoa and the loser destined for a showdown with England in the quarters.