Match Report: Fifita stars as Blues smash MaroonsPlayer Ratings: How New South Wales faredPlayer Ratings: How Queensland fared
Fat kids rule.
Eight months ago, Andrew Fifita was admonished and banished from the Australian team because of his subtle support for one-punch killer Kieran Loveridge.
On Wednesday night, he ripped out an Origin performance that has Queensland ripe for the picking in game two at ANZ Stadium on June 21.
The Sharks prop manufactured the Blues’ first try for James Maloney, helped get the ball rolling for Mitchell Pearce’s try on the stroke of half-time and then bulldozed over for his own in the 55th minute.
Fifita is one of the game’s great mysteries.
Cronulla fans adore him, not least after his display in last year’s maiden premiership victory. Many rival supporters consider him a stain on the game, as much as he tries to paint himself as a misunderstood soul.
In this match, it was impossible not to applaud him no matter what you think of him.
Park Fifita’s character to the side for a moment and what’s left is a 120-kilogram footballer who looks like he’s ducked through the drive-through at Hungry Jacks on the way to the game before playing with Beetson-like aplomb. The biggest kid on the field who nobody can stop and if you can he’ll just pop an impossible pass anyway.
In a game that’s becoming increasingly played by athletic robots, all of the same size, all of the same mediocre skill, he’s an unlikely breath of fresh air.
He set up the first try of the match using equal parts size and skill, scattering Maroons defenders like a bowling ball and then squeezing out an offload for Sharks teammate Maloney to score.
Late in the half, with NSW reeling from a Maroons try to winger Corey Oates from a Cooper Cronk cross-field kick, Fifita smashed it up the middle again, getting Queensland on the back foot and giving the Blues enough momentum for the play to surge down field before Pearce went over just before half-time.
Fifita was one of several stars in a Blues side whose time looks like it has finally arrived, albeit against a Queensland team that will now be sweating on the injured Johnathan Thurston returning for game two. It will stun if Billy Slater – for some reason overlooked for this match – isn’t there, too.
Even with those players, however, Laurie Daley’s men will be brimming with confidence after a 28-4 victory, their biggest in Brisbane.
Fullback James Tedesco was equally as dominant as Fifita, scoring tries at one end and snuffing them out at the other. Aaron Woods found the form he hasn’t had all season at the Tigers. Rookie hooker Nathan Peats tackled everything but the Maroons trainers.
Jarryd Hayne went into the match with his future at the Titans unclear, however on Thursday morning, the NRL club announced he would in fact be seeing out his second year on the Gold Coast.
When he scored in the 60th minute, he ran towards the large pocket of Blues fans behind the posts climbed into them, arms outstretched. After toying with American football and rugby sevens, the Hayne Plane was home.
In many respects, rugby league needs a NSW series win. Just to change it up.
For all the navel-gazing the game has been doing recently, it can always rely on Origin to bring it back to life, but this series has been different.
The opening match, in Brisbane, did not sell out and worryingly there were empty seats dotted around the outer of a rugby league cathedral that not that long ago would sell out Origin matches within a day.
Perhaps it had something to do with the Blues’ supposed favouritism with Queensland missing the likes of Thurston, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott.
Whatever the interest, it meant nothing to the players who produced one of the most absorbing opening halves of football seen at this level in years.
While Pearce was solid in his return to Origin, there would’ve been legions of Blues supporters sitting in loungerooms and throwing remote controls at the wall through an impotent kicking game that has long been his downfall in Origin.
He was starting to come into the game until the 50th minute when he was collected by Maroons centre Will Chambers and was ruled out of the rest of the night with concussion.
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