Even NSW coach Brad Fittler, commentating for Nine at the time, was bemused. “I think he’s pretty lucky, but he’s holding his ground, Angus,” Fittler said. “It’s pretty physical out there and he wanted to get up and play the ball. If you get your face in the road …”
To which fellow commentator Phil Gould, himself a former Blues coach, quipped: “See, one is a NSW player and one is a Queenslander.”
Speaking ahead of his latest stoush with Papalii in Origin III, Crichton said it wasn’t his intention to goad the Kangaroos prop.
“I’ve had a few little battles, me and ‘Big Papa’,” Crichton said. “There was that obvious game when we were playing the Raiders at the SCG. I didn’t mean to, but I collected him with my elbow in the nose. There was a bit of push and shove.
“It’s all good, it’s all a bit of fun. After the game we had a little laugh about it. We’ve had a few run-ins. He’s a good player and I look forward to many more.”
Papalii took Queensland’s loss in game II personally, claiming he let down the side with ill discipline and an underwhelming performance. It sets up another intriguing battle against Crichton, ensuring another fiery forward clash to go alongside the Payne Haas-Tino Fa’asuamaleaui rivalry.
“I always love playing against good players and he’s one of those world-class front-rowers, he’s [behind] a lot of their go-forward,” Crichton said. “He needs a fair bit of stopping. It’s all on the field, he’s a good fella and I’ve got a lot of mates who are mates with him. There’s no bad blood, but once we get onto the field, it’s hell for leather.”
Asked if he would be tugging on Papalii’s mullet as retribution for having his own hair pulled, Crichton laughed: “Nah, I’ll leave the hair pulling to Papa.”
Crichton has carried his strong form at the end of the NRL season into the interstate arena. The absence of Boyd Cordner due to multiple concussions has given the former Rabbitoh a chance to shift into the NSW starting side. He has made the most of it and finished Origin II with 15 runs for 117 metres, including three tackle breaks and 22 tackles.
The 24 year old said he was feeling more comfortable in the interstate arena in his third series.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to step up into the starting side in Boydo’s absence,” he said. “I’ve got to play simple, play hard footy. That’s what rep footy, Origin footy is about; rolling up the sleeves and playing tough. We’ve got another opportunity to do that on Wednesday.”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.