The Queensland Maroons won last night’s second State of Origin match (and the series) but there was more than just one loser. The NSW Blues lost the game and the series, but the referee, and the “process” that chose him lost even more comprehensively.

The final score, 10-6, is probably a reasonable reflection of the game, but it does not tell the real story of a game that never really not into top gear because of the way it was “controlled”, or, more accurately “not controlled”.

While the better team won on the night, it takes a very bad refereeing performance for BOTH sides to criticise him after the game! That privilege – with the threat of a fine hanging over it if the criticisms go too far – is usually left to the losing coach or captain.

But last night the Blues captain, Danny Buderis, effectively laid the blame for the loss on a couple of crucial calls by first time Origin referee, Shane Hayne. And the Maroons coach, Mal Meninga, hardly rode to his rescue describing Hayne’s performance as “a pretty ordinary display”.

But it’s a bit hard to blame the referee for the outcome when he did not award a penalty until the 50th minute of the game, and only gave four in the remaining 30 minutes – three to the Blues and one to the Maroons.

He can and should be criticised for his failure to crack down on deliberately delaying tactics – by both sides – in the play the ball area. It did not add to the standard of the game… and was inconsistent with the approach taken by the same referee, and his colleagues, in the NRL premiership.

The problem with Hayne is that he should never have been chosen in the first place. That is not his fault, but the fault of a flawed selection process that needs changing.

While the game was close throughout – and the result in doubt to the very end – if the referee had cracked down earlier we would have had a more free flowing, exciting match.

There was probably another loser out of the game – those who were calling for the Blues to “bring back the biff” to match the tough Maroons forwards. The referee did not issue one caution for rough play during the match – and that is probably a record in itself. While there were plenty of hard hitting tackles not a finger, let alone a fist, was raised in anger by either side.

The stand out player was the Maroons hooker, Cameron Smith. There is no more consistent player in the game today than the Melbourne Storm, Queensland and Australian forward. The Blues fullback, Brett Stewart, called into the team just a day before the game had a very strong debut – he is clearly one of the game’s emerging stars.

Finally, here is the reason why State of Origin has cemented its premier place in rugby league. Since 1980, there have been 80 Origin games – Queensland has won 40, New South Wales 38 and there have been two draws.

But one more stat confirms just how close Origin is. After 80 games, Queensland has scored 1,271 points – and New South Wales 1,266. Just FIVE points separate the teams after around 6,400 minutes of football played over 27 years!

And that is why Origin will survive ordinary refereeing performances – and why even the “dead rubber” game three in three weeks time is already a sell out!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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