Blues coach Brad Fittler works his State of Origin magic again

Having lost the opening game of the 2020 State of Origin series in Adelaide, the Blues headed to their ANZ Stadium home with the knowledge that they enjoyed an 18-9 winning advantage there. With a COVID-19 friendly half crowd of just over 36,000, the Blues ran out knowing victory was their only option.

Coach Brad Fittler had made several changes to his team, just as he had last year after losing the opener. The players he slotted into the team weren't necessarily better than the ones they replaced, but the shake-up seemed to jar every Blues player into producing a better performance. Just like last year, they levelled the series with a convincing Game 2 victory.

Much of the talk after Game 1 had been about the poor performances of halves Nathan Cleary and Luke Keary. Keary was dropped for Cody Walker and the move seemingly spurred Cleary on to a man-of-the-match performance. Key to his improvement though was an improved effort from his forwards, a lift in intensity that was noticeable from the very start.

The Blues kicked off and immediately there appeared to be greater purpose in their defence. The hits were a touch more meaningful, the metres gained by the Maroons restricted and as a result the Blues took their first possession well into Queensland territory, where a high kick was defused in-goal by Cameron Munster. Crucially, in taking the ball on the full while moving backwards, Munster was slung to the ground and hit his head hard on the firm turf. He left the field, failed his HIA and is now in doubt for the decider.

One of Queensland's earliest attacking opportunity came after Gerard Sutton missed a two-man strip in a tackle on Josh Add-Carr near halfway. When the crowd moaned during the replay of the indiscretion, Sutton suggested to the Blues players that they could have challenged the call. Addo-Carr's cheeky response was to suggest that Sutton should get the call right in the first place.

With slick Maroons backline passing Xavier Coates launched himself towards the corner, managing to ground the ball mid-flight as James Tedesco tried desperately to cut him off. After slumping to a 10-0 deficit in Game 1, the Queenslanders were determined to have a better start and they were underway.

Having missed the first penalty to New South Wales, Sutton awarded the next two and a six again call to Queensland. There is no referee who influences the momentum of the game more than Sutton and it was all Queensland early. With the Maroons failing to take advantage, he then awarded the Blues a penalty, two six again calls and another penalty until the weight of possession could no longer be resisted. Walker received the ball outside two decoy runners, dummied, spun through Kurt Capewell and plunged over the line to level the scores.

The Maroons were falling for dummies up the middle of the field with both Cleary and Damien Cook making breaks. On their next venture into Queensland territory, Tedesco took a huge right foot step to work his way past Ben Hunt for the Blues second try. With Cleary on song with his boot, the Blues took a 12-4 lead.

Tyson Frizell clashed heads with Addo-Carr and had to leave the field to have a gash above his eye stitched. It gave Isaah Yeo his first taste of Origin football and he made the most of his opportunity, running hard and taking advantage of his lanky, difficult to tackle frame.

With two minutes remaining in the half we saw the Blues hit the right-hand side of a midfield scrum, ten metres out from the Queensland line. Tedesco found the chest of Addo-Carr who stepped inside two defenders to cross out wide. Cleary converted and the Blues were looking good at the break leading 18-4. But, there was still 40 minutes to go and they were playing Queensland.

Three minutes after the break, the Blues used the left hand side of their attack after some smart work up the middle from Cook and Cleary. Walker spun the ball to Jack Wighton who powered through two tackles to score. Cleary added the two points to see the Blues kick away to a 24-2 lead. It was looking ominous for the Maroons

The Blues forwards were making good metres through Junior Paulo, Dale Finucane and Yeo. Halfback Cleary was given more time and showed much more control. His kicking game determined field position all night, turning the Maroons' back three around and putting the Blues on the front foot.

Nathan Brown entered the game and immediately sent Jake Friend sprawling with a typical bulldozing charge. On the next tackle he even managed to put up a kick which saw the Blues awarded a scrum fifteen metres out from the Queensland line. Another midfield scrum and another backline movement and it was Daniel Tupou's turn to take advantage of a one-man overlap to dive over in the corner. Cleary missed the conversion, but the Blues were well in charge leading 28-4.

Sixteen minutes into the second half we saw tempers flare after Brown and Friend disagreed over the ball. Youngsters Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Payne Haas turned a typical pack push and shove into an exchange of punches which would see them both sent to the sin bin to cool down.

The Blues defended their line gallantly, with one charge from Lindsay Collins going desperately close. The next time Queensland were down that end however, a Daly Cherry-Evans pass saw Papalii charge through a Cook tackle to score the Maroons' second try. The conversion put the Maroons 18 points behind with 17 minutes remaining.

They really needed to score again and quickly, but a dropped ball saw the Blues on the attack yet again. This time a clever grubber kick into the corner by Walker saw Addo-Carr pounce for his second try. There was no coming back for Queensland in this game.

Fittler had worked his magic again, his Blues looked like a completely different team to last week, but there was still one more game to win.

Last year the Blues won Game 2 convincingly in Perth, before playing the decider at ANZ Stadium. This year to win the series they will have to enter a packed Suncorp Stadium and beat the Maroons in their cauldron. Only twice has New South Wales gone to Queensland to win a decider.