In this day and age to play Origin, you need to be tough. Playing in the forward pack, it is a necessity. But if you want to win, the halves need to be just as tough. If you look back at some of the greats who have played the game, toughness is a quality they had in spades. Peter Sterling, Alan Langer, Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer; these men proved toughness wins Origins. The greatest man to ever play Origin was also the toughest. Wally "The King" Lewis epitomises what Origin is all about. Not only his intelligence in attack, but his defence is what made him so great. He would take on the biggest man on the field just to prove he wasn't prepared to take a backward step. One of the most iconic Origin moments is the King v Goliath; Wally Lewis going head-to-head with Mark Geyer. Geyer has constantly been quoted saying he didn't know whether to flatten Lewis or shake his hand.
Game 1 of this year’s series was one of the toughest we have seen in a very long time. It separated the men from the boys; every player was out on their feet. Lewis said it was one of the best physical contests he has ever seen. There was only four points separating both teams, but if you weren't on the edge of your seat, then you just don't get Origin. Each team had their heroes. Cameron Smith was inspirational for the Maroons. Staying on the field after an ankle injury proves how much the jersey means to him. Not to be outdone, NSW had their own knight in shining armour. Winger Brett Morris ruptured his ACL in his shoulder scoring the Blues first try, and stayed on the field for the full 80, making a possible dynasty-halting try saver on Darius Boyd.
Johnathan Thurston proves every time he dons the Maroon jersey he was made for Origin. JT always justifies coach Mal Meninga's choice by putting on a first-class performance, in both attack and defence. The reason the Maroons have been so successful for so long is because there is no weakness in their defence. Lockyer was always so tough in the halves, and now Cooper Cronk has stepped up. If it wasn't for an unfortunate incident, Cronk might have steered the ship to a victory on Wednesday night. With Cronk out for rest of the series, it's up to Daly Cherry-Evans to step up. While he wasn't a star in Game 1, he has proved that he can handle the Origin arena. He proves week-in week-out that he is pound-for-pound one of the toughest players in the NRL.
NSW coach Laurie Daley has finally realised what Mal did eight years ago. Defence wins Origins. Leaving incumbency at the door, he took a stand and appointed new halves pairing of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds for Game 1. While Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney are Grand Final winners, they aren't made for the toughness of Origin. If they were there on Wednesday night, there is no way they could have stopped the Maroon onslaught that lasted near 10 minutes. Hodkinson's defence has always been his biggest attribute, and that is what has been missing the past eight years. Apart from Jarryd Hayne, Reynolds was by far the best on field for NSW. His running game was superb. His passing game was top-notch and his defence was as tough as they come. They literally proved without a shadow of a doubt that DEFENCE WINS ORIGINS!
This is shaping as one of the best series for years, with the battle of the halves the biggest talking point. Its JT & DCE v Hodko & Grub, and with the future Australian halves taking on the best NSW have to offer, it will be one for the ages.