The Queensland Maroons have defeated the New South Wales Blues 22-6 in Game 3 to take home the 2017 State of Origin series, their 11th title in 12 years.
The Maroons saw off a spirited second-half fightback from the Blues to cruise to the win, after a try to Josh Dugan raised hopes of a New South Wales comeback.
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However the Blues couldn’t find a second six-pointer despite a set of six on the Maroons’ try-line, with Queensland producing a phenomenal display of goal-line defence to keep their opponents at bay.
The away side was made to pay not long after, with debutant Cameron Munster scything through the defence after a shocking Mitchell Pearce defensive read before putting Valentine Holmes away for his first State of Origin hat-trick.
Munster turned provider minutes later, throwing a wild speculative pass that landed in the grateful arms of Jarrod Wallace, who strolled over for the easiest of tries under the posts with the Blues’ middle defence seemingly asleep.
Earlier, it was all Queensland in the first half, and it was a minor miracle that they only went into the break up 12-0.
Holmes opened the scoring for the home side, somehow maintaining possession to plant the ball down in the corner despite the attention of three Blues defenders. The try came after some outstanding lead-up work from Billy Slater and Michael Morgan.
Slater had slalomed across the field, drawing a number of defenders before an offload that allowed Morgan to drive downfield and release Holmes.
There was some doubt about the grounding of the ball, however the Bunker ruled Holmes still had control with his fingertips when he touched down.
Cameron Smith, taking over kicking duties for the injured Johnathan Thurston, nailed the conversion from the sideline, and the score should have been doubled moments later, but a magnificent cover tackle from Brett Morris knocked the ball from Cooper Cronk’s grasp just metres from the sideline.
The Maroons were able to double their lead not long after, Holmes once again scoring with Cronk the provider. The veteran halfback rifled a flat kick across the field, finding Holmes on the try-line in plenty of space.
When Smith once again converted from the sideline it seemed like a Maroon procession was on the way once again, evoking memories of the bloodbath of a decider from back in 2015, which saw Queensland win 52-6.
We may well have ended with a similar scoreline had Smith facilitated a third first-half try, however the skipper, who was superb all night, decided to go himself despite having unmarked men on his outside just metres from the Blues try-line.
Cronk then failed with an attempted field-goal on the stroke of halftime, and there was a sense the Maroons could be made to pay for their profligacy when they went in with just the 12-point lead.
However, aside from a few promising moments from the Blues in the second half, the Maroons put those doubts to bed with a complete performance and cruise to yet another State of Origin series victory.
The Blues’ players were clearly distraught with their lacklustre performance in the decider, with James Maloney looking particularly gutted after the final siren.
The victory means Queensland legend Johnathan Thurston has gone out of representative footy a winner despite missing the decider through injury. The superstar halfback was invited up on stage by Smith to help lift the Origin shield, a fitting farewell from the Origin arena after his last on-field act was to kick the match-winning conversion in Game 2.
Queensland winger Dane Gagai took home the Wally Lewis Medal for the best player of the series, after an outstanding performance throughout the three games. He was the Maroons’ best in their disappointing Game 1 outing, and scored the crucial second-half double in Game 2 which forced the decider.
Smith was named man of the match for Game 3 after a masterful display, bringing his total number of best afield awards up to seven, just one shy of all-time record-holder Wally Lewis on eight.
Aside from Smith, the Maroons had plenty of outstanding contributors including debutant Munster, who many thought was the best on ground, Slater and Cronk, although the home side didn’t have a bad player on the ground.