January is not usually a time for rugby league teams to join, rejoin or quit competitions – or for State of Origin sides to go into camp.
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New South Wales have overcome an early setback to lead 10-4 over Queensland at half-time of State of Origin 2014 Game 1 at Suncorp Stadium, with tries to Brett Morris and Jarryd Hayne capping off a strong first-half performance from the visitors.
It took less than five minutes for Queensland to remind the visitors of why they have won eight consecutive series.
The Maroons got on the front foot on just their second set of the evening, with second-rower Chris McQueen breaking through feeble defence to give his side field position.
New South Wales scrambled and looked to have done enough but from nowhere, a towering Nate Myles bomb put debutant Daniel Tupou under pressure and while he was able to regather after initially dropping the ball he was set upon and bundled into touch immediately.
If Queensland’s first attack was disjointed the ensuing play off the scrum was anything but.
A slick set piece saw the ball passed the multiple sets of hands with Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis both involved, before Darius Boyd slipped past Brett Morris and a sliding Jarryd Hayne to finish in the corner.
Thurston couldn’t convert, giving Queensland a 4-0 lead.
But Queensland’s ascendancy was dulled just minutes later with Cooper Cronk leaving the field with a broken arm after appearing to make contact with Myles while making a tackle.
Daly Cherry-Evans was given an earlier-than-expected introduction into the game, and he was immediately forced to help defend as New South Wales seemed to sense an opportunity, and they were able to force a repeat set.
A wayward bomb from Trent Hodkinson allowed Queensland to repel after a full set on their own line, but New South Wales were helped by a penalty on their following set and were able to capitalise in the 19th minute.
A ball Josh Reynolds brought fullback Jarryd Hayne into the action, and after drawing multiple Queensland tacklers off the left edge, he released Josh Morris into space.
He drove down the right-hand touchline beforing passing inside for twin Brett to level the scores but the try came at a cost, with the winger dislocating his shoulder diving over the tryline to make it 4-4.
He would return just minutes later, when New South Wales continued to gain the upper hand via a forward pack that was beginning to overpower their opponents.
A second penalty gave Hodkinson the chance to atone for his missed conversion and from directly in front and 25 metres out he gave New South Wales a 6-4 lead in the 26th minute.
A lifting tackle from Beau Scott and Reynolds, who was placed on report for his effort, on Brent Tate brought both sides face-to-face without turning into a skirmish of any sort as Queensland continued to be forced to defend in their own half.
New South Wales’ dominance resulted in Hayne crossing for the eighth State of Origin try of his career in the minute.
Enveloped by Queensland skipper Cameron Smith, Thurston and Inglis, Hayne appeared to be neutralised metres out from the line before powerfully turning through the three tacklers off the ground to plant the ball over the line.
— NRL (@NRL) May 28, 2014
Hodkinson again missed the conversion, an easier attempt this time, but the 10-4 lead New South Wales then took into the break was a just reward for what had been a strong first-half performance.
Queensland rallied in the dying stages in the half and only a knock-on from a charging Matt Gillett prevented the Maroons from levelling.
Regardless, it was a reminder of the quality of the eight-time champions and the home side look certain to challenge New South Wales’ six-point advantage in the second 40 minutes.