Dragons Duo Feature In NSW Blues Loss
By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
A clinical second half from the Maroons and a perfectly-executed Cooper Cronk field goal have helped Queensland edge an 11-10 win over a resolute Blues side that suffered a from serious lack of execution in the second half.
It is a measure of the defensive capabilities of Laurie Daley's men on their own try-line that they conceded just two tries in 80 minutes despite handing a raft of the best attacking rugby league players of their generation chance after chance at their line.
Having taken a four-point lead to half time, the Blues just never got going in a dire second half in which they made simple errors in attack and defence and lacked execution in the big moments.
And, after having been outmuscled through the middle period of a first half in which the Blues stormed back from 6-0 down to 10-6 up, the Maroons managed to lift their game to another level after the break to shut their opponents out.
While there was little to separate the forward packs, the potency of the Queensland backs on early hit ups far exceeded that of their opponents, and while maligned Blues halves Trent Hodkinson and Mitch Pearce were solid if unspectacular, their more storied opponents managed to find the big plays just when it mattered.
Pearce kicked for a match-high 480 metres, defended well and set up a try, but his critics will also point to a penalty kick that failed to find touch at a crucial time.
Meanwhile Thurston was a constant threat and Cronk added the finishing touches with a try and a field goal.
Queensland had enjoyed the momentum in the opening salvos following a Will Chambers half break and later a penalty against Josh Jackson for a flop.
It almost led to a try after eight minutes, but the video referee overruled the on-field officials after finding Billy Slater had illegally pushed Trent Hodkinson out of the way before grounding Cameron Smith's grubber.
But with the first half continuing to be played in Blues territory, Smith forced a dropout before a beautifully worked short side play on the last from the same man following a quick play the ball from Sam Thaiday created a three-on-one and allowed Cooper Cronk to slice over for a 6-0 lead.
The Blues desperately needed some more go-forward and it came from their starting big men, with both Aaron Woods and James Tamou putting into monstrous first stints of 90 and 72 metres respectively in the opening half hour – easily the best of any forwards on the field.
It was Tamou that sparked the Blues into gear when a powerful charge was followed by a precision offload to a flying Josh Dugan, who raced through a gap and, as Slater loomed up on him, dropped a perfect ball onto the toe.
Josh Morris showed great awareness to beat Darius Boyd to the ball in the corner, although Trent Hodkinson just missed the sideline conversion attempt.
With the game back to being played in the middle part of the field, a Nate Myles dropped ball on the Queensland 30 handed the Blues a chance to hit the lead and they constructed points through their halves, with Hodkinson feeding Pearce who produced a great step and pass to put Beau Scott over.
As the coaches started to roll the interchanges on the field from the half hour point, some of the energy slipped out of the game as Blues rookies Andrew Fifita and David Klemmer struggled to maintain the lofty standards of their opening props but some stiff Blues defence meant the Blues held their four-point advantage at the break.