The Maroon dynasty is finally over. At long last, it is over.
How many years did those south of the border scream and plead for the NSW selectors to ring the changes to no avail, only to watch the Maroons repeatedly, brutally and monotonously triumph?
Too bloody many.
Last night’s triumph by Freddie Fittler’s Baby Blues can never erase that era of Queensland dominance.
But it finally ended it.
To their immense credit, the Maroons made them work incredibly hard for it. The return of 35-year-old Billy Slater added focus, form and venom to the Queensland backline. Only one member of the Maroon backline – Ben Hunt (55) – failed to make 100 metres with ball in hand.
Valentine Holmes made 205 metres, Dane Gagai 146, Slater 125, Will Chambers 132 and Cam Munster 108.
Captain Greg Inglis was once more a behemoth for his State making 194 metres from 18 runs and 18 tackles.
And let’s not forget young Kalyn Ponga. Thrown into the back row he made 30 tackles on top of his 102 metres from seven runs. He came so close to snatching the game in the 67th minute with a superb line break. Only injury can prevent the kid from playing 30+ Origin games.
When, after 21 minutes, it was 10-0 to the Queenslanders it looked like the New South Welshmen would once more capitulate and have to head to Suncorp Stadium with the series tied.
However, they ground their way back into the match and just twelve minutes later, courtesy of a well taken Josh Addo-Carr try and a penalty try, they were back in front.
And what of the penalty try? Gerard Sutton got it absolutely right. Cordner was deliberately impeded by Ben Hunt and had no competition for a ball that sat up beautifully.
Conversely, Tom Trbojevic had the ball well and truly covered in the 69th minute when James Roberts impeded Gavin Cooper so a sin bin was the most appropriate response.
Sutton and Ash Klein awarded 14 penalties for the match, with Sutton’s performance as top notch as we’ve come to expect.
So why did the Blues win if the Maroons were so good?
Firstly, the New South Wales halves were better. James Maloney and Nathan Cleary guided their side around the field better than their opposite numbers. Maloney laid on two try assists and Cleary was constantly probing in attack.
The young Panther number seven also made 22 tackles for just one miss. That included a superb try saving tackle in the 72nd minute on Valentine Holmes that had to be made.
For Queensland Cam Munster had a red hot go, making 108 metres and 24 tackles. However, Ben Hunt had a night to forget. As good as he has been for the Dragons this year, he has failed to step up for the Maroons.
While his play on Cordner needed to be made regardless of the risk of sin bin or penalty try, his dreadful kick – on just the third tackle, and while James Roberts was in the sin bin – was ill conceived and dreadfully executed.
And why did he leave it to Will Chambers to kick on the Maroons last attack on the Blues line? Surely he had to want the ball?
I’ll be very surprised if the Titans Ash Taylor isn’t heavily considered for the Maroon number seven jersey going forward. Of course it should be Daly Cherry-Evans in the role but apparently he’s not liked… By whom is what I want to know.
The only players remaining in the side from when he last played in 2015 are Billy Slater, Will Chambers, Greg Inglis and Josh McGuire. They need to explain to the people of Queensland the heinous crimes that DCE has committed that justifies him being excluded from the side.
Whatever. Hunt was poor and it really hurt the Queenslanders.
Secondly, the Blues won because their captain once more led by superb example. His 17 runs for 138 metres and 25 tackles justified his man of the match award. Before the series many questioned his inclusion in the side. They need to retract. Cordner has been exceptional.
Thirdly, Latrell Mitchell is a match winner. While he made a few errors in the game, he made two line breaks, scored a great try (while showing some superb butt crack) and pounded Cam Munster with some wonderful defence. Given a few more seasons this kid could be the next superstar of the game. All he needs is a bit more maturity and experience. He’s got everything else.
Fourthly, the Blues missed eight fewer tackles. This is an incredibly telling stat as Queensland were camped out in the Blues defensive 20 for a quarter of the game and yet only managed three tries. This was because the Blues defence was so good. And remember that for ten minutes they were a man down too.
These factors overcame the Blues shortcomings. The Maroons relentlessly targeted James Roberts who, while incredibly quick, isn’t a great defender. Billy Slater and Cam Munster sent masses of traffic at him.
Only two of the Blues forwards made over 100 metres: Cordner and Jake Trbojevic. The rest had little impact on the match, apart from defending stoically. However, they could not be described as the dominant pack by any means.
This is highlighted by the fact that, in spite having the ball for four fewer minutes in the match and having to make 22 more tackles, the Queenslanders made 208 more metres for the match than their opponents.
The Blues will only build on this momentum now. They’ll head to Queensland for Game 3 on July 7 wanting to inflict the Maroons first 3-0 series loss since 2000. And don’t bet against it happening because in that series the Blues current coach was the captain. Fittler knows how to smash the Maroons.
And at his first go of trying as coach he has beaten the Maroons. He has been audacious in doing it, bringing in twelve debutants and playing a very attacking and positive style of football.
The long night is finally over for the long-suffering NSW fans. All those smug Queensland supporters just have to suck it up now, instead of dishing it out.
While the Maroons have been far from disgraced, it is clear that their era of dominance has now finally been ended by Freddie’s Baby Blues.