The Queensland Maroons have sent the 2017 State of Origin series to a deciding match with a 18-16 win over the New South Wales Blues in Game 2 in Sydney.
With less than five minutes to go and Queensland trailing by four, Dane Gagai broke through the NSW defence and scored the match-winning try after holding on to a superb Michael Morgan flick-pass.
With the scores tied at 16-all, Johnathan Thurston nailed the ensuing conversion, sneaking it through the left-hand upright to give Queensland the two-point buffer that they would take to the final whistle.
The match-winner was Gagai’s second try of the last 40 minutes. He had earlier broken away to open the scoring in the second half after some excellent work from Josh McGuire and an instinctive no-look pass from Will Chambers.
However, New South Wales fans were unhappy with the try, as Jarryd Hayne had appeared to be blocked from chasing the kick that led to Gagai’s try. It wasn’t the first time the referees earned the ire of the home crowd, with a similar block going unpenalized earlier in the second half.
But few fans could realistically begrudge Queensland’s victory, with the visitors far outplaying the Blues in the final 40 minutes of the game.
More Origin 2 coverage
» State of Origin results
» Five talking points from Queensland’s series-tying victory
» Check out all the highlights from the thrilling Game 2
» WATCH: Andrew Johns unleashes a furious rant about the Blues’ woeful second half
» WATCH: Valentine Holmes starts his Origin career with the first try of Game 2
The Blues had earlier taken a ten-point lead into halftime on the back of three quick tries to Jarryd Hayne, Brett Morris and Mitchell Pearce, despite debutant Valentine Holmes scoring the opening try of the game.
Holmes crossed in controversial circumstances, with his foot going awfully close to the touchline as he dived acrobatically over the line in the corner. However, the on-field decision was for a try, and the Bunker had insufficient evidence to award anything other than a four-pointer.
It was a short-lived advantage for the away side, with New South Wales quickly responding with a trio of tries. Jarryd Hayne was the first to score, finishing off a slick backline move from the Blues, before Josh Morris capitalised on a break from James Maloney to surge across the line.
Just 90 seconds later, Mitchell Pearce scored his second try if the series when he was the beneficiary of a superb run from James Tedesco, putting the finishing touches on a dominant first half.
However, that would prove to be the Blues’ final scoring play of the game, as they went the entire second half without breaking through the Queensland defence.
For the Maroons, Gagai was outstanding for the second straight game, and both Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith turned in far improved performances from the first match of the series.
The Queensland forwards were also far better than in Game 1, with Josh McGuire and Dylan Napa the standouts up front.
New South Wales had plenty of strong performers in the first half – Mitchell Pearce backed up his good opening game with a solid opening 40 minutes and Josh Jackson was outstanding throughout – but the entire side dropped off after halftime.
The series now moves back to Brisbane for the decider, which will be played on July 12 at Suncorp Stadium.