Michael Hagan: How Blues can shut Walsh down without using high-risk outside in strategy

NSW need to change their tactics around shutting down Reece Walsh or the State of Origin shield will be heading back to Queensland for the third year in a row on Wednesday night at the MCG.

Their plan backfired big time in game one when Joseph Suaalii was sent off inside seven minutes for his high shot on Walsh and it’s that outside-in defensive tactic which they need to adjust.

Origin is so hard because the players are so quick and skilful and it’s very difficult to try to shut down attacking plays from outside in because if you look at the Walsh example, he still had enough time to find the pass and the Maroons made a genuine line break. 

The Suaalii tackle actually had no impact on the play that unfolded because Queensland still got into the backfield and made another 40 metres.

If you want to take the odds to coming in hard from outside you have to land on the ball and shut the play down. Otherwise, if you get your timing wrong then you run a huge risk, as we saw in game one, not only with the nature of the tackle but it didn’t stop the play.

In my way of thinking, that defensive strategy doesn’t work at that level. I’m suggesting that NSW centres Stephen Crichton and Latrell Mitchell and their experienced edge back-rowers Liam Martin and Angus Crichton, will have to come up with a better plan which may mean hanging back a fraction rather than rushing up on the fullback.

Walsh is a fantastic player who is brave, skilful and speedy, he’s very much like Billy Slater in the way he used to play. He’s not going to shy away from anything because he’s put his hand up to play but I would argue that he might play back from the line a little bit, given what happened with Suaalii, which might give the defence a little bit more time to adjust. 

And he hasn’t played for four weeks. He will be a little bit underdone given the speed of Origin and he may have a few reservations about coming back into that level of contact.

With the targeting of him from a coaching point of view, the landing of bombs just out from the goal line and getting a united chase there and trying to be aggressive on him to stop Queensland’s momentum and kick reception, that’s got to be a major part of their plan.

The Blues also have to put pressure from the inside on the ball-players before it gets to Walsh and be willing to work really hard from the inside and to scramble hard against him when he gets possession.

By putting pressure on Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Dearden before it gets to Walsh, it will allow them a bit more time to work out if he is going to be a running threat or if he is going to pass to create a break.

Reece Walsh. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

If you give him enough opportunities in good-ball situations, he’s going to make the right call more often than not. And then that will allow Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow on the left edge and Val Holmes on the right to get two or three genuine opportunities each half and that will be enough for Queensland to generate the points they need to win. 

NSW have got a much more difficult defensive assignment with Walsh and everyone on deck again.

The most important thing that the Blues will have to do is that they need to be unbelievably good on kick-chase against their back five and they cannot allow Queensland any cheap field position (without any poor discipline) because they are going to have enough attacking firepower to put them under the pump. 

Therein lies Mitchell Moses being included and his kicking game which will be essential for NSW to be building pressure by pinning the Maroons in the corners. For them to win, it has to be a nine out of 10. And their kick-chase game has to be at the same elite standard.

Latrell hasn’t played a lot of late and he needs to be on board on the chase on every kick and win those contacts against them all the time. 

And that’s Origin, right? Kick-chase and reception is so vital.

On the other side of that is Latrell and Crichton and what they can offer in their attack because I think Queensland still gave up a couple of tries when NSW were down to 12. They weren’t at their best with the ball or in their defence either.

They’ll have to improve because NSW will come out with the energy of a team knowing they have to win. They did quite well for the best part of 60 minutes of the game after the Suaalii send-off before that Ben Hunt try with 15 to go broke their back.

For NSW to win, they’ve got to be nearly faultless with their kicking game because Queensland have got more attacking threats. 

I think the Blues have got a stronger all-round side with Moses there and Cameron Murray back. It’s very much going to be a NSW left-side attack versus Queensland right-side defence where NSW might fancy their chances to score points this time around. Latrell has the best, soft hands I have seen at this level and he will cause plenty of problems for Val Holmes and Xavier Coates.

Dylan Edwards getting to play for NSW after he was forced out before game one is massive for them in terms of getting their back five on the front foot early in sets. 

If Latrell, Crichton, Brian To’o and Zac Lomax carry the ball like we know they can, I think Queensland are going to maybe struggle to handle that if the Blues get a bit better share of the footy this time around.

Queensland have kept the same starting side but I was surprised to see Selwyn Cobbo being rested because he was excellent in the first game, having a genuine hand in three of their tries. 

There’s been a fair bit of talk about a couple of hand grenades being thrown into each camp with some of the public comments from each camp and I reckon that’s a good thing to stir everyone up a bit.

Latrell Mitchell. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Michael Maguire has warned the Queenslanders about living in glass houses and Billy isn’t too happy with the Blues but I don’t think that has any real impact on the modern-day player.

Billy is arguably one of the best fullbacks our games have ever seen and I’ll always stand up for a fellow Queenslander when people question his judiciary record or character as a player. The bottom line is he doing a wonderful job as QLD coach and has adapted to the changing nature of the game beautifully.

In the end, all the pre-game talk is not going to have a huge impact on Billy or the team because if you are focused on anything else but executing your game plan in Origin, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I believe the reason Queensland will be successful on Wednesday night is because they have a greater advantage (and experience) in the key positions with their spine (including Harry Grant) having played 57 Origins between them while NSW have just 17, including two players on debut.

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