State of Origin 2022: Brad Fittler questions referee as Qld beat NSW

A dejected Brad Fittler has revealed where it all went wrong for NSW, suggesting the referee’s mindset allowed the Maroons to dominate Origin I.

NSW coach Brad Fittler has pinpointed where it all went wrong on Wednesday night, saying Queensland’s dominance in the ruck was the difference between both sides in this year’s State of Origin opener.

Queenslander won a thriller 16-10, spoiling the Blues’ return to Homebush for the first time in two years by taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

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Fittler acknowledged his troops were outplayed by a slicker opposition who dominated the ruck, but hinted referee Ashley Klein’s unwillingness to blow penalties encouraged the visitors to hold on in defence and slow down the speed of the play-the-ball.

“Playing off slow rucks is a pretty hard thing to do,” Fittler said in the post-match press conference.

“I think they did a good job, held on tight and Ashley didn’t want to give penalties away. I think we got a penalty with 17 minutes to go (which) was the first.

“I thought they won the ruck, I thought they did a really good job there. Munster came up with a couple of valuable steals at crucial times, but once we generated some speed, I thought we looked pretty strong. I think generally they just won the ruck.”

Asked if he felt the Blues deserved more penalties for being slowed down by the Queenslanders, Fittler said: “We should have done a better job. We should have held them down longer. Simple.

“There’ll be a lot more wrestling done (in game two). It just shows, when you own the ruck and you do a good job there, the rest of the game gets a lot easier. We have to be a lot better in that area.”

NSW captain James Tedesco also believes Queensland took advantage of the lack of penalties being blown for ruck infringements.

“There were no penalties, so they were probably holding us down for that extra second and didn’t allow us to free that space around the ruck and play with the freedom we wanted to,” he said.

On the other side, Queensland coaching debutant Billy Slater was beaming.

Before the match he said he was struck by nerves but was “proud to be a Queenslander, really proud to be the coach of that group of players”.

While Fittler was fixated on one area of the game that shut down the Blues, Slater praised his side for the one per cent plays, which all combined for the victory.

Cameron Munster’s key strip of Stephen Crichton when the Blues were deep in enemy territory late in the second half, and desperate defensive efforts from Valentine Holmes to clean up NSW attacking raids summed up what the Maroons are all about.

“It was the way that Queensland have played for decades, that’s what won us the game tonight,” Slater said.

“That (Munster’s strip on Stephen Crichton) was a big moment. This bloke (captain Daly Cherry-Evans) jumped on a ball late in the game when there was a half-chance they were going to score a try.

“Val Holmes, we all saw him come from the right side of the field and he was just accelerating and dived on that loose ball. They’re little moments but they’re big moments.

“There might be 100-200 in a game, all of them are important. You don’t do one and they come back to bite you.”

A couple of controversial 50-50 calls angered Blues fans. There were suggestions Junior Paulo was held in the scrum, which opened up a gap for Daly Cherry-Evans to score the visitors’ second try, while Fittler questioned whether a Kalyn Ponga pass in the lead-up to Dane Gagai’s try in the 34th minute was forward.

Fittler suggested he would be speaking to referees boss Jared Maxwell to get clarity on the contentious decisions.

“It’ll be interesting to speak to Jared and his view on the ball going forward and Junior Paulo being held,” Fittler said.

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