For neutral Queensland observers of Brisbane’s 26-12 victory over the Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium, the outcome was of less concern than the Origin subplots that underpinned the contest.
On Tuesday, Mal Meninga will reveal the squad he thinks can win game three and notch up a seventh consecutive Origin crown. Injury – and lack thereof – will mean some necessary tweaks to the side that went down to the Blues 16-12 at Homebush.
The most obvious change should be at fullback, with Billy Slater sidelined with a knee injury sustained in the brutal derby against NSW. He is scheduled to be out for a month. But what’s this? A twist? It wouldn’t be Origin without one.
Michael Crocker, the Rabbitohs captain, former Storm man and good friend of Slater, said the little master had told him on the phone that if he could put weight on it over coming days, he could be half a chance.
“Slater’s always positive. He’s really thorough with his rehab. If he can put some weight on his knee and get some running into it, he said he might be there,” Crocker said.
Meninga, who was at the game last night, would name Slater on the sniff of a glimmer of a molecule of hope.
But he’ll need a Plan B, which could be Greg Inglis, Matt Bowen or Ben Barba.
The fitness of Sam Thaiday means he will go back to the second row, bumping Dave Taylor back to the bench.
But here’s where three doesn’t go into two. With Ben Hannant and David Shillington locks for bench spots, either Taylor, Matt Gillett or Corey Parker will miss out.
Here’s how the ledger stands on last night’s performances:
Greg Inglis In club land, Inglis has been a revelation in the number one jersey. At Origin, he remains firmly in the centres, with Slater owning the fullback position. If Slater doesn’t play, there’s little doubt Inglis would easily fill the void. He is still carrying an elbow injury but looked dangerous last night, without breaking free into open country.
“He’s so dangerous with the ball in hand. Thankfully, defensively, we managed to contain him. At times he was almost breaking loose. We’re glad to walk away with the win,” Petro Civoniceva said of Inglis.
His enormous bombs were a handful for Josh Hoffman and he smashed the Broncos fullback a few times, closing down promising raids in the process. B
Justin Hodges The Brisbane centre hasn’t fired in the first two games, even looking a little off the pace at points in both games. He scored a try last night, defended well and carried the ball strongly from dummy half. He aggravated a rib injury that coach Anthony Griffin later said had been troubling him for some time but it’s unlikely to keep him out of game three. B
Petero Civoniceva The numbers flatter the great forward less and less as his final season enters its twilight.
His 10 runs yielded 88 metres and he chipped in 14 tackles. Crucially, he made a big impact late in the game when Brisbane’s senior players upped the ante. He needs to do the same in his final Origin appearance C+
Dave Taylor Taylor was under the most scrutiny last night and for the most part, delivered a gutsy effort after showing some more frailty with his hands at the start of the contest. He wasn’t flying solo in that regard. He slipped a pass that should have led to a Souths try if it hadn’t been butchered and pushed through fatigue when he looked out on his feet deep in the first half. He topped the hit-ups for Souths with 14 (127m) and made 37 tackles, a huge effort for a player of his size.
Civoniceva went into bat for his Maroons team-mate: “I just know what an important member of the team he is. When he’s in great form – and he has been – he’s one of the most damaging players in our game.
“He’s a young bloke still. We put a lot of pressure on him. But I think he’ll be better for that experience. I just love playing alongside him.”
Taylor’s numbers looked good but may flatter to deceive. He never caused much alarm in the Broncos ranks and he’s not in the Queensland side as a packhorse. B
Sam Thaiday Returning from the shoulder injury that ended his hopes of playing in Origin II, Thaiday put some dings in the Rabbitohs line. He ran wide and hard and kept Brisbane on the front foot as they took a stranglehold of the game in the second half. He was missed in Sydney and will be parachuted straight back into the starting side. B+
Matt Gillett The Origin rookie hasn’t had the desired impact for the Maroons and should be under just as much pressure as Taylor to prove he belongs. He did well in patches last night but once again offered up a defensive blunder that helped Chris McQueen get across for Souths. Gillett’s reply was some absolutely brutal front-on defence that couldn’t help impress. He needs that and more to be a factor in game three if he is chosen. B-
Corey Parker With his shin stitched inside-out after that awful cut in game two, Parker produced a gutsy and eye-catching effort in his return last night. The Brisbane lock stepped up to the plate with the sort of game that dared selectors to leave him out of the side. He led Brisbane’s forwards in metres (133m), carries (17) and tackles (54), shrugging off four tacklers on the way to a gigantic performance. He couldn’t have done anymore – now it’s up to the Queensland selectors. A