NSW admits coach made giant blunder
It's been the longest season in history but it's going to drag on even more for NSW as it dissects where everything went wrong in the State of Origin decider.
Up against a Queensland side dubbed the weakest in decades, a string of newcomers and mastercoach Wayne Bennett conspired to complete the most stunning upset since Paul Vautin's troops in 1995, wrapping up a 2-1 series win on home turf last night by holding on for a gritty 20-14 victory in Game 3.
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So how did NSW blow it?
FREDDY'S BIG BENCH BLUNDER
The Blues' best player and captain James Tedesco was ruled out of the game after 20 minutes when he was knocked senseless by an accidental knee to the head as he slid into a tackle, throwing NSW's structure into disarray.
Eels fullback Clint Gutherson started in the centres before shifting back to his usual position in the No. 1 jersey to cover Tedesco's absence, but this created a hole in the backline the Blues couldn't fill.
Coach Brad Fittler picked four forwards on the bench, leaving fullback/utility Ryan Papenhuyzen out of his squad. Had the Storm star been playing, he could have gone straight to fullback and Gutherson could have remained in the centres, leaving the Blues' backline relatively untouched.
Instead, Fittler was forced to throw Penrith back-rower Isaah Yeo into the unfamiliar right centre slot, where his lack of pace was exposed by Queensland's left edge. Winger Josh Addo-Carr came in to protect his new three-quarter on multiple occasions, leaving space for Queensland flanker Valentine Holmes to get on the outside of his man.
That's where the Maroons looked most dangerous, even if they butchered some certain tries. Holmes dropped the ball twice with the line wide open after taking advantage of an overlap, and a stray pass that would have put him over in the second half flew into touch.
Phil Gould said repeatedly Yeo's move into the centres spelled disaster for NSW - especially because he was marking Queensland's best outside back Dane Gagai.
"My concern with putting Yeo to right centre, he doesn't necessarily like playing on the right side of the field and he is marking Dane Gagai because Dane Gagai is playing left," Gould said.
Yeo was out of position in the first half, forcing Nathan Cleary to make a desperate intercept play to prevent a break and shortly after the Panther was again caught out, watching on as Addo-Carr saved his bacon by recovering and pushing Holmes over the sideline.
"This is why I don't think Yeo should be playing right centre. Look how he was really found out for pace here when the ball gets to his outside," Gould added. "He just hasn't got the pace to match it with (Corey) Allan.
"That really drags Addo-Carr in. Had the pass been better, I think he (Holmes) scores. I think they need to rethink this, the Blues, about how they are lining their back line up."
Fittler's advisor Greg Alexander told Andrew Voss on SEN the NSW coach was "shattered" and admitted it was a mistake to leave Papenhuyzen out.
"There wouldn't have been a better replacement than Ryan Papenhuyzen but who's to know that your fullback's going to get injured," he said.
"In hindsight, Ryan Papenhuyzen would've been a great selection on the bench."
Daily Telegraph rugby league reporter Phil Rothfield called out Papenhuyzen's snub as a major blunder that may have cost NSW the series.
"Brad Fittler and his advisor Greg Alexander have to accept responsibility for a selection gamble that blew up in their faces in the Origin decider," Rothfield wrote.
"Either Melbourne Storm's Ryan Papenhuyzen or the Sydney Roosters' Luke Keary should have been wearing the number 14 jersey for the overall balance of the side.
"The problem was having to bring Isaah Yeo, who has played all season in the middle for Penrith, into the centres. It doesn't work at this level."
FORWARDS LET CLEARY DOWN
NSW suffered a similar problem at Suncorp as it did in the second 40 minutes of Origin I in Adelaide. It found itself camped inside its own half, unable to make ground or control the ruck as Queensland dominated field position.
Too often the Blues ran one-out and while halfback Cleary's kicking was majestic in Game 2, he was regularly kicking from 30m out from his own line on Wednesday night, unable to find space and giving Queensland easy starts to their sets.
To avoid being pressured, Cleary was often sitting very deep off the ruck come tackle five, shaving valuable metres off kicks. This isn't a criticism of the Blues halfback, but a reality of how difficult a No. 7's life is when playing behind a beaten forward pack, which was out-muscled by Maroons props Josh Papalii and Christian Welch.
NSW was too predictable coming out of its own end, unable to find another way to make metres by spreading the ball wide early in the tackle count and challenging the Queensland defence.
Just like in Game 1, it seemed the Blues were always relying on a penalty or six-again call to get them out of trouble and if that didn't come, then they were losing the field position battle and stuck on the back foot.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS JACK WIGHTON?
Jack Wighton won the Dally M Medal as the best player in the NRL this year but barely touched the ball in Brisbane.
One of the most damaging ball-runners in the game wasn't given a chance to steamroll Origin newcomers Edrick Lee and Brenko Lee because the Blues just couldn't get him early ball, and he never went looking for it.
A five-eighth at club level for Canberra, Wighton looked lost further away from the action, rendering him - and by extension, the Blues' attack - impotent.
Individual missed tackles from Wighton and Gutherson (again, playing in the centres even though he's a fullback at club level) resulted in two Queensland tries in Game 1 and cost NSW the game.
Last night a poor read from Gutherson in defence, falling for a decoy runner, allowed Holmes to open the scoring in the fourth minute as a clever play created an overlap and showed the risks of playing people out of position.
It wasn't a mistake Queensland made, as Gould pointed out after the first try.
"This is picking players in their positions," Gould said. "Munster out the back to Corey Allan who was named on the wing, playing fullback, to Valentine Holmes, who was named fullback, playing on the wing, who gets the expert finish in the corner.
"So that's the selection from Wayne Bennett who just knew that's where they needed to be playing."
Originally published as NSW admits coach made giant blunder