State of Origin 2: Maroons fuming over tackles that could rule Cam Munster and Kalyn Ponga out

Queensland will carry a deep sense of injustice into Game III after two Blues stars escaped punishment for horror tackles on Cameron Munster and Kalyn Ponga. WATCH HERE

Queensland will take a burning sense of injustice onto Suncorp Stadium for the deciding State of Origin game after NSW golden boy Nathan Cleary and centre Stephen Crichton escaped censure for tackles that threaten to sideline two of the Maroons biggest names - Kalyn Ponga and Cameron Munster.

Cleary and Crichton were cleared by the match review committee on Monday morning, adding insult to injury for the bruised and battered Maroons as they licked their gaping wounds after a devastating - and potentially costly - loss in Perth.

Cleary was placed on report for a shot that forced Ponga from the field in the second half while Crichton appeared to drive his shoulder into a defenseless Munster when he was being held by two Blues defenders.

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Stephen Crichton's shot on Cameron Munster raised a few eyebrows.
Stephen Crichton's shot on Cameron Munster raised a few eyebrows.

Some would no doubt suggest it was a cheap shot. As a result of those two incidents, Ponga and Munster will miss their games for Newcastle and Melbourne respectively this week and remain in doubt for Origin III given the nature of their injuries.

Ponga, in particular, has suffered a series of head knocks this year and his father Andre conceded he would speak to his son about his concerns when Kalyn returned to Newcastle.

“I will have to have a conversation and see how it is going,” Andre said.

“We were in the second row, I thought he was maybe winded but as he went to go back to fullback, I could see he had jelly legs. It was more of a delayed one.

“You have to take that into consideration for his longevity in the game. He is 24, we have to sit down to plan those things better as well.

“We’ll sit down when he gets home to make sure he is in a good mindset.”

Cleary was exonerated by the match review committee after they deemed that contact with Ponga was not careless, no doubt adding to the belief north of the border that the Penrith captain is a protected species.

“He is undertaking a wrapping action with his arm and at no stage is rising into the tackle,” match review commissioner Luke Patten said.

That was cold comfort for the struggling Knights as they face another week without their best player due to his latest head knock. Their sense of frustration was only exacerbated when it emerged that Ponga had been cleared by Queensland’s medical staff but was not allowed to return to the field because his head knock was deemed a category one by the independent doctor in the bunker.

Nathan Cleary’s shot on Kalyn Ponga. Picture: Channel 9
Nathan Cleary’s shot on Kalyn Ponga. Picture: Channel 9
Munster could miss the decider.
Munster could miss the decider.

That decision meant he was unavailable for the Knights on Friday night while Maroons coach Billy Slater will be forced to wait for further medical advice before Ponga is given the green light to play in Origin III.

Munster’s injury is understood to be an AC joint problem and he revealed after the game that the injury had occurred when he was hit by Crichton early in the second half.

“I pulled up a little bit sore 45 minutes into the game,” he said.

“I got a shoulder from (Stephen) Crichton about five minutes into the second half. I tried my best but wasn’t good enough.

“I was a little bit of a passenger. Hopefully it’s all good. It was shoulder on shoulder. My body’s not holding up as good as I’d like it to. Fingers crossed I can get myself right.”

Again, the match review committee elected not to sanction Crichton despite footage suggesting the tackle had many of the hallmarks of a shoulder charge.

“When Stephen Crichton joins the tackle he appears to be trying to wrap, but his space is taken by another defender,” Patten said.

Nathan Cleary escaped a ban despite making contact with Kalyn Ponga’s head. Picture: Trevor Collens/AFP
Nathan Cleary escaped a ban despite making contact with Kalyn Ponga’s head. Picture: Trevor Collens/AFP

“His actions were not careless.”

Munster is expected to be scratched from the Storm side for Thursday night’s game against Manly at 4 Pines Park and is likely to need a pain-killing needle to take his place in the final game of the Origin series.

Injuries to two of Queensland’s biggest stars capped a night to forget for the Maroons, who also suffered the ignominy of having back rower Felise Kaufusi sin-binned late in the first half. Queensland held their nerve when he was off the field but the dam walls burst in the final 20 minutes as the Blues ran riot.

Munster’s fiery Cleary admission

Cameron Munster says the Maroons made Nathan Cleary look good after NSW’s golden child blitzed Queensland to send the Origin series to a Brisbane decider.

Cleary was man-of-the-match in NSW’s 44-12 thrashing of Queensland in Origin II at Perth’s Optus Stadium on Sunday night.

The Blues halfback finished with a haul of 24 points, double that of Queensland, after bagging two tries and setting up another two in the finest performance of his 12-game Origin career.

Cleary’s mauling of the Maroons came after a quiet Origin I, where he was shut down by Queensland in NSW’s 16-10 defeat in Sydney.

Cameron Munster has fired a shot at Nathan Cleary ahead of game three. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Cameron Munster has fired a shot at Nathan Cleary ahead of game three. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The Maroons did such a good job on Cleary that the Blues complained to the NRL about their line-ball defensive tactics.

On the back of 10 errors and 54 missed tackles, the Maroons gave Cleary far too much time and space in Perth and the crafty No.7 put Queensland to the sword to set up a Suncorp Stadium decider on July 13.

But it wasn’t just Cleary’s brilliance that allowed him to dominate, according to Queensland’s Game One hero Munster.

“Everyone plays well when they’re full of confidence,” Munster said.

Nathan Cleary ran riot against the Maroons, finishing with two tries in a masterful display. Picture: AFP
Nathan Cleary ran riot against the Maroons, finishing with two tries in a masterful display. Picture: AFP

“In the first game he wasn’t up to par for himself, he said. He proved his critics wrong.

“He is a good quality player, don’t get me wrong, but we made him look good. We gave him too much time and space.

“If you’re giving someone like that too much time and space, nine times out of ten they will take the right opportunity at the right time.

“They were a lot better in certain moments.”

Cleary had the ball on a string for most of the game and was rarely put under any pressure by Queensland, who made 10 errors and gifted the Blues 61 per cent of possession.

The Maroons lost the ruck battle and therefore couldn’t rush Cleary’s kicking game as he amassed 430m from 15 kicks, making life difficult for Queensland’s back three.

Cleary set up NSW’s first try for ex-Penrith teammate Matt Burton with a deft kick and then threw a looping cut-out pass to put Daniel Tupou over.

Munster believes Cleary was given too much time and space to weave his magic. Picture: Getty
Munster believes Cleary was given too much time and space to weave his magic. Picture: Getty

He bamboozled the Maroons twice with his running game to score a double and kicked eight goals from as many attempts for a 24-point haul.

The Maroons can’t afford to give Cleary so much time in Brisbane, but Munster refused to be critical of Queensland’s beaten forwards.

“I’m not going to bag my own teammates, we were all poor,” he said.

“I need to be better, we all need to be better.

“They were always going to improve in the second game and we didn’t get up for it, which is very disappointing for us as a state. We need to have a bit of a look.

“Our forwards did a lot. We just didn’t match their energy all over the park and it showed on the scoreboard.”

NSW BLUES WHINGE THEIR WAY TO ORIGIN VICTORY

By Brent Read

The squeaky wheel got the oil – and the win – at Optus Stadium on Sunday night. The NSW camp spent the lead-up to the second State of Origin game bleating about the officiating and lo and behold, they got the rub of the green in Perth.

Set restarts? NSW 3, Queensland 1. Sin-bins? Queensland 1, NSW 0. Only hours before Origin II, Queensland assistant coach Cameron Smith beseeched referee Ashley Klein to ignore the complaints from the Blues.

A penny for Smith’s thoughts now? Chances are the shoe will be on the other foot leading into the final game of the series – to be played at Suncorp Stadium in a fortnight or so – although Queensland coach Billy Slater should take a good hard look at his players after the way they capitulated in the second half.

Felise Kaufusi was sin-binned in the first half. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty
Felise Kaufusi was sin-binned in the first half. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty

NSW coach Brad Fittler made mass changes after losing game one. Slater is now confronted by the same decision. Pick or stick? After a belting like this, no-one could blame the rookie Queensland coach for wielding the axe.

Last time the Maroons were in Perth, they were on the end of a thrashing. The scoreline was just as bad this time around. The good news for the NRL is we will head to a decider in Brisbane, although Suncorp Stadium was destined to be a sellout regardless.

Back to this game though and the moment on the stroke of halftime that would play a significant role in shifting momentum on the night.

At that point, Queensland were holding onto a four-point lead but the game changed when Felise Kaufusi was dismissed after a succession of six-again sanctions.

Within seconds, the Blues scored in the corner and they went into halftime with the wind in their sails.

In the commentary box, former NSW coach Phil Gould lashed the decision. “In Origin football or any football, I don’t think we should have got to that point,” Gould said on the Nine Network.

Former Queensland player and coach Paul Vautin added: “There was five (six-agains) in a row. It is a gee-up. No-one knows what they are for …. and we’re so called experts.”

Slater urged his side to bite down on the mouthguard for the nine minutes they were stripped of Kaufusi.

Referee Ashley Klein. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty
Referee Ashley Klein. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty

“What an opportunity for these boys,” he definitely uttered.

“I see it as a great opportunity. We need to work really hard and see where we are at after nine minutes.”

The nine minutes weren’t the problem in the end, although fatigue no doubt played a part in the way the Maroons’ unravelled in the second half.

The issue was Queensland’s hands and their inability to hold onto the ball. That and the pressure that was brought to bear by the kicking game of Nathan Cleary and the discipline of his teammates.

Queensland could complain about some rough calls, but Klein wasn’t to blame for the dropped Cleary bomb that preceded Daniel Tupou’s try 12 minutes into the second half.

Nor for that matter the bad miss by Jeremiah Nanai that allowed Jarome Luai to extend the lead to 14 points and put the game out of Queensland’s reach.

Or the Matt Burton strip on Dane Gagai that came before Cleary stepped his way through Queensland’s defence.

He stepped his way through again moments later after another moment the Maroons will want to forget – a failed short kick-off.

The Maroons must now find a way to recoup as the series heads to Brisbane. They can start by reducing their error count – they finished with 11 errors in all at fulltime.

The good news is they will have the attacking genius of Kalyn Ponga to call on, although he finished the game off the field after a high shot by Cleary.

If Cameron Munster is the new king of Origin, Ponga is surely the crown prince. The next in line when it comes to Maroons royalty.

Munster took a back seat of sorts on Sunday night as Ponga proved the attacking force for the Maroons.

Even he couldn’t set up a triumphant homecoming heading to Suncorp Stadium. Ponga created both tries for Queensland in the first half, the first with a deft pass for Felise Kaufusi and the second when he used his pace and guile to burn off NSW centre Stephen Crichton.

Valentine Holmes loomed in support and Munster finished it off. That was as good as it got for the Maroons as the squeaky wheel enjoyed a night out in the west.

Originally published as State of Origin 2: Maroons fuming over tackles that could rule Cam Munster and Kalyn Ponga out

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