New South Wales coach Brad Fittler is fighting to save his job after a disastrous State of Origin opener and his questionable use of Nicho Hynes in Adelaide left his Blues side staring down the prospect of another series defeat. A depleted Maroons side defied the odds to pip NSW 26-18 despite playing the latter stages of the match with a man in the sin bin and two players out injured.
Tryscoring doubles from Selwyn Cobbo and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow helped Maroons coach Billy Slater's men to victory in front of a crowd of 48,613 fans, with Cameron Munster wrapping up the result with five minutes to go after Maroons prop Lindsay Collins out-jumped Blues captain James Tedesco to claim a high kick and set up his teammate.
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It was an awful end to the game for the Blues, who appeared to have the match in their control after Stephen Crichton's try put them two points ahead and Thomas Flegler was sent to the sin bin for a controversial high shot on Tom Trbojevic. For many Blues fans though, it was the sight of reigning Dally M Medallist Hynes sitting on the bench for the best part of 70 minutes that caused the most outrage.
Hynes was chosen to fill the bench utility role for the Blues and was slated to come on at hooker for Api Koroisau, who ended up with a try and 42 tackles after playing the full 80 minutes. When Hynes did eventually come on he was played out of position at centre when Trbojevic went off for an HIA, even combining with Josh Addo-Carr for a try-saving tackle on Taulagi in the final 10 minutes.
However, Hynes was brutally exposed in defence for Tabuai-Fidow's go-ahead try when he was stood up by Munster, before the Maroons spread the ball left and took the lead. It was a dagger blow to Fittler and the Blues, with Munster's try moments later completing the nightmare.
Maroons legend Cooper Cronk was among those to question whether Hynes could have been used more effectively by the NSW coach. Blues fans were also quick to condemn Fittler after the game, questioning why he was picked to effectively sit on the bench for the majority of the game.
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“The thing about Nicho Hynes is there’s something there, it’s a bit specialist that role because you’ve just got to wait for a moment to get him on. But maybe you can force that hand earlier," Cronk said on Fox League. “You wouldn’t expect (Queensland hookers) Ben Hunt and Harry Grant to defend well for long periods but they do so maybe there’s something where Hynes can be injected into the game.
“After 12-10 in the second half, Api Koroisau gets you to the lead, Fittler’s probably thinking ‘we need our best defensive team — that’s not Nicho Hynes.’ But sometimes you might need a little bit of injection when Selwyn Cobbo goes over, maybe that’s the time to get him on there and throw caution to the wind and get more expansive play going.”
Everyone knows my opinion on Nicho Hynes on this NSW bench.
Fittler had to bring Matt Burton for Turbo with the 18th man foul play rule. Put a bloke on thats been there before & you know can defensively do a job. Really poor coaching adjustment.
Freddy coaching for his job.
— Patty's Playbook (@PattyPlaybook) May 31, 2023
Fittler, says Hynes would of come on for Koroisau, but says Api he was doing quite well. So if Tommy died t go off for a HIA, Nicho wouldn’t of come on.
Why pick him on the bench you flog
— Grouponegav 🇦🇺 (@grouponegav) May 31, 2023
NSW was poor across the board but could bounce back with same team 💁🏼♂️ Hynes selection is bizarre - what’s the point of an “impact” player if they don’t come on & create/score at least one try? Carrying a back on the bench as insurance is too big of a gamble in Origin. Backfired.
— Brendon Wolf (@BrendonWolf9) May 31, 2023
Hynes was given a 12 minute debut at the end of the game. This is on BRAD FITTLER!
— Blair (@LB68367465) May 31, 2023
Payne Haas 31 minutes. TPJ 29. Hudson Young hooked?
Nicho Hynes integrated through right centre and immediately got burnt for pace.
Fittler. What can you even say?
— AndrewMacca (@Andrewmacca27) May 31, 2023
Fittler claiming he had a plan for Hynes and then only bringing him on for a HIA interchange is garbage. Should have come on at the 30 minute mark. Terrible strategy.
— DUSTIN (@dustinkrueger85) May 31, 2023
The Maroons had to overcome plenty of adversity with Tom Gilbert (shoulder) and Cobbo (hip) unable to finish the game, while David Fifita, Taulagi (both head injury assessment) and Flegler (sin-bin) had to spend time out of the game. But their grit and fight - personified by man-of-the-match Reuben Cotter - helped them take a crucial 1-0 series lead ahead of Game II at their Suncorp Stadium cauldron.
"This is an almighty win, people in Queensland will be very proud of their team," Slater said. "We put ourselves in a position (to win) because I know that that's a trait of Queensland.
"I'm sure NSW is the same… but Queensland goes through drought, cyclones, flood, they go through a lot of adversity and we try and represent our people in that way as well. I think that's what makes our people so proud of this footy team and that's why this footy team is such an inspiration for our people."
NSW will have to take the hard road if they are to have any hope of winning the series. The Blues, who have won just one of their last six outings in Brisbane, lost Trbojevic late in the second half to a head injury assessment which will likely prevent him from playing any football before Game II.
"I was pretty excited, we had a bad start and we just kept going and got to the front...and from there it went downhill," Fittler said. "The last 10 minutes when they were down to 12, we didn't handle that very well at all.
"It felt like we had enough opportunities to adapt, and were a bit disappointed because we had a lot of good ball."
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