New South Wales have won the 2018 State of Origin series on the back of a thrilling 18-14 win over Queensland in Game 2.
It was an outstanding exhibition of rugby league, a fitting finale for a superb weekend of rep footy. And, truth be told, the Blues’ victory is hardly the worst thing for the Origin series after year upon year of Maroon dominance.
Stung by their Game 1 defeat and buoyed by the return of Billy Slater, Queensland started the game superbly, but the first half was most noteworthy for two controversial Bunker decisions, both of which went the way of the home side.
The first prevented – or, to be more accurate, delayed – the Maroons from opening the scoring, Dane Gagai ruled to have been tackled into touch by Josh Addo-Carr when he planted down in the corner, but it was a matter of mere millimetres.
Queensland eventually got their opening try through Valentine Holmes on the opposite wing and Gagai crossed for a four-pointer of his own soon after to put the Maroons up 10-0 after Holmes made one of his two sideline conversions. But Addo-Carr confirmed his try-scoring-machine status with 25 minutes on the clock to pull the score back to 10-6 before the second noteworthy intervention from the Bunker.
With New South Wales on the attack 20 metres out from Queensland’s posts, James Maloney spied a pocket of open space in behind the defensive line and put through a sharp grubber kick for Boyd Cordner to run onto. With a try begging, the Blues skipper was knocked off his run and into the ground by Ben Hunt.
The contact was minimal, to say the least. Queensland fans didn’t like the call – Johnathan Thurston certainly didn’t in the Channel Nine commentary box. But Hunt clearly changed his line, if only slightly, and the men in the Bunker had no choice but to award New South Wales a penalty try.
Gifted a conversion right in front of the sticks, James Maloney made no mistake to give the Blues a 12-10 lead, one which they kept until half-time despite some late Queensland pressure.
They managed to extend it after the break, too. A repeat set inside the Queensland 20 gave New South Wales the chance to build some pressure and it didn’t take them long to turn it into points, Latrell Mitchell bursting over the line between two defenders from point-blank range.
But, as they always do, the Maroons came back. After a few chances went begging, Will Chambers crossed in the corner to bring the margin back to four, although Holmes was once again unsuccessful with a difficult conversion.
Then, with a little over ten minutes remaining, another Bunker decision made its mark on the game. Hunt, like Maloney had in the first half, grubbered a kick in behind the line for his second-rower. Like Boyd Cordner before him, Gavin Cooper was obstructed by a defender, James Roberts throwing an arm out to pull back the Maroons runner.
It was a needless and rash decision from Roberts. Tom Trbojevic had the kick covered, and the Bunker was correct in its decision once again, this time not awarding a penalty try but instead consigning Roberts to the sin-bin for ten minutes.
In years past, Queensland would have won the match from that position. But gone are Thurston, Cronk and Smith. Hunt, a fine player in his own right, displayed a shocking lack of patience and game management just three tackles after Roberts was sent to the bin, kicking a grubber dead halfway through the resulting set.
Another Maroons chance presented itself not long after and once again it went begging. This time it was due to no mistake, but instead a wonderful covering tackle from Nathan Cleary which scythed down Holmes with the Queensland flyer racing down the touchline.
And while Queensland made a few more forays into New South Wales territory, it was not to be for the state which has dominated the Origin arena for more than a decade. Roberts returned to the field, the Blues made their way down the field and, faced with the unenticing prospect of having to defend a last-minute Maroons set, a Damien Cook grubber helped force a Queensland knock-on to seal the game, and the series.
For the Blues, Latrell Mitchell was immense all night despite one error coming out of defence. James Maloney was once again outstanding, stepping up as the side’s senior half to control the play nicely, and skipper Cornder was awarded man of the match. But it’s not particularly fair to single out any one or two players for the victorious side, as there was hardly a poor man in sky blue.
That’s not to say Queensland are doomed for a decade of misery of their own. Kalyn Ponga proved he belongs on the Origin stage, and Hunt and Cameron Munster will only improve as halves at this level with time. Let’s not forget, too, that Michael Morgan was missing tonight through injury.
But this moment belongs to Brad Fittler’s Blues. After so many series defeats since 2005, they’ve shown Maroons victories won’t be trotted out with the same monotony as they have over the last decade.