TRENT Merrin has no doubt why some of the stars of round 17 were players released by State of Origin camps.
“To prove a bit of a point,” the NSW squad member, a strong performer in the hoodoo- perpetuating 22-18 loss to Canberra last night, tells NRL.com.
“…and to let some frustration out, I’d say.”
South Sydney’s Dave Taylor, North Queensland’s Matt Bowen and Merrin all found themselves leaving Origin camp, like contestants voted off a reality show, less than a week before the biggest show in town.
It wasn’t just that they responded – that much could have been safely expected of our elite – but also that the standard of football at the weekend belied the absence of 34 of the best players in the country as well as a whole game on Friday and two on Saturday.
Friday night’s 26-12 win by Cronulla over Brisbane had as many thrills and spills as a WWE bout while Saturday’s 20-12 victory by Newcastle over Parramatta featured some of the most cohesive attacking raids either side has mustered this year.
Maybe it’s not the missing players that creates the lull in intensity and interest around Origin time – it’s the fatigue of those who are left. Once a bye or two kick-in, the spectacle at club level actually returns to the level it was at, even with the key players still missing.
Certainly North Queensland missed Johnathan Thurston when they trailed 16-0 after 14 minutes to the Warriors on Sunday. That placed more pressure on Bowen to lift his side and despite spending most of his career as a strike man rather than a creator, that’s exactly what he did.
He threw assists, booted conversions and pulled off a try saving tackle on opposite Kevin Locke but it was not enough to avert a 35-18 defeat – something which he quite unreasonably blamed himself for.