Phil Gould and Brad Fittler call out Michael Maguire over response to Joseph Suaalii send-off

The Blues coach's response to the early send off has come under fire.

NSW coach Michael Maguire has come under fire for his response to Joseph Suaalii's eighth-minute send off in State of Origin Game I, with former Blues mentors Brad Fittler and Phil Gould insisting he got it wrong. Maguire's game plan went out the window when Suaalii rushed up in defence and hit a slipping Reece Walsh with forceful contact to the head, leaving referee Ashley Klein with little choice but to send him off.

Unlike Maroons coach Billy Slater - who was hailed as "genius" for having Selwyn Cobbo on the bench to replace Walsh - the Blues coach opted against having a back as part of his four-man interchange. It meant Maguire was forced him to shift Angus Crichton into the centres, with Nicho Hynes even defending on the wing at various stages in the first half.

On the right is Phil Gould, with NSW coach Michael Maguire on left and Joseph Suaalii in the centre.
Phil Gould was among those to criticise NSW coach Michael Maguire over his response to the Joseph Suaalii send off in State of Origin Game I. Pic: Getty

The Maroons took full advantage of the extra man and the reshuffling of the NSW backline, with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow scoring two tries in quick succession after replacing Walsh at fullback. Both of those tries came down the left side of the Maroons attack as they're identified a weakness on the right edge of the Blues' defensive line.

By the time Maguire moved Blues centre Stephen Crichton from his starting position at left centre to the other side to shore up the right-side defence, the Maroons had jumped out to a 20-6 lead that they took into halftime. And Gould was quick to criticise the NSW coach about how long it took him to make the positional switch, as well as the decision not to have a utility back such as Matt Burton on the bench to cover the loss of Suaalii.

“The send off is unfortunate but I thought NSW reacted poorly to it and probably didn’t make the change they needed to make,” Gould said on Channel Nine. “They came into this game without a replacement for the backs. They should have done that and instigated it straight away.

“It was probably their worst nightmare. Having to play them with 13 men was hard enough, let alone 12 men. They (Maroons) just had too much speed and creativity out wide. I thought NSW were gallant in the physical side of the game, but they weren’t that smart with their football either."

Fittler - who was replaced as Blues coach by Maguire for this year's series - agreed that his successor should have come up with a better plan. “At the end of the day, they were pretty heroic (but) you’ve still got to come up with a plan to win the game,” Fittler said. “I don’t think at any stage did we look organised on a certain edge.”

Gould said Maguire and the Blues will have plenty of soul-searching to do ahead of a must-win Game II at the MCG on June 26. And he also questioned the decision to leave skipper Jake Trbojevic on the bench for the majority of the match, having played the opening 20 minutes. Maguire may well have decided that with the Blues chasing the game with a man down that there were better attacking options at his disposal than the Blues captain.


"I thought we reacted badly to the send-off positionally and thought our interchange was poor," Gould added. "Our captain only played 25 minutes or something... never saw him again until very late in the piece. They got on till the send-off put them on tilt. They couldn't recover, both on and off the field. They need to reassess that and look at what they do next time...

“I thought the signs were there even before they got down to 12 men. They did break them down the left side and had already scored a try. The speed of Queensland and the creativity was always going to be a problem. It was just exacerbated by being down to 12 men and allowed Queensland to virtually play as they like.”

Seen here, NSW captain Jake Trbojevic sitting on the bench in State of Origin Game I.
NSW captain Jake Trbojevic played the opening 20 minutes of State of Origin Game I but then sat on the bench for the majority of the match. Pic: Getty

The Blues now face a massive task to try and keep the series alive by winning in Melbourne, before heading to the Maroons' cauldron for Game III at Suncorp Stadium, where NSW wins have been historically hard to come by. Fittler says despite the disappointment of Wednesday night's defeat, he thinks the Blues can take a number of positives into their next match.

“They had a red hot crack. The coach will be able to go away (and say) ‘here’s enough moments boys’,” Fittler said. “He will be able to convince them, ‘here’s enough moments, we can do this. Just hold the ball, stay in the game longer’. There were enough moments, enough signs of courage to give the coach hope.”