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Billy Slater goes out a winning Origin captain, man of the match, and man of the series

The Maroons stand for the national anthem during game three of the State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on July 11, 2018 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Expert
11th July, 2018
12

My lasting memory of last night’s epic Origin 3 at Suncorp was Billy Slater and wife Nicole in a big hug with tears flowing in concert with the rain.

But they were tears of pure joy.

Slater had earlier run onto Suncorp alone for the 31st and last time for Queensland, but the first time as captain, to such thunderous applause from the faithful that my television set took a wobbly.

In the early minutes he very nearly scored a try and, in the 30th, was denied another when NSW pivot James Maloney took him out without the ball, earning himself a trip to the bin.

More Origin 3
» GORE: Queensland prove every single Origin match matters
» Who rose to the occasion for the Maroons? All Queensland players rated
» Every New South Wales player’s Game 3 effort rated
» Seven talking points from Origin 3
» WATCH: Complete match highlights from Billy Slater’s triumphant farewell

For the rest of the game the debut skipper was the inspiration, driving his troops to victory to avoid a series whitewash, and in the process picking up the man of the match, and man of the series awards.

It would be fair to say Billy went out with a big bang.

But it would also be fair to say halfback Daley Cherry-Evans, back in maroon for the first time in three years, pushed Slater all the way for the man of the match honour.

Cherry-Evans’ passing and kicking was sharp and accurate, and he covered an enormous amount of positive ground in general play – it was a sensational comeback.

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He set up Valentine Holmes’ second try in the 52nd minute, and scored one himself under the black dot in the 58th to seal the win.

So, New South Wales won the series, but Queensland won 18-12 last night in front of 51,214 with 178 countries watching one of the very best of Origins called by veteran Ray Warren for the 90th time.

Holmes kick-started the scoring in the 11th minute with a 90-metre intercept to convert and land a penalty to lead 8-0.

For the next 26 minutes it was all Queensland hammering the NSW line, only incredibly courageous defence held them out.

Then it was Tom Trbojevic’s turn for a 95-metre intercept for NSW, and fullback James Tedesco’s for another try – both converted by Nathan Cleary with first-choice kicker Maloney in the bin.

The Blues led 12-8 at the break, and must have thought all their Christmases had come at once. How on earth could they lead with blow-all ball?

But the massive NSW defensive effort of 239 tackles to 137 in the first half took its toll in the second.

Three brain-dead decisions were costly.

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David Klemmer deliberately tripped Ben Hunt without the ball and was lucky not to be binned.

Tariq Sims crash tackled the Ben Hunt, his marker, without the ball. Angus Crichton failed to offload with speedster James Roberts unmarked outside him, bombing a certain try.

It matters not, NSW was the best team in the series but Queensland the best last night, setting up the 2019 series with the big four of the decade-plus Queensland domination – Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, and Billy Slater – all moved on.

But standby for the Ponga-Cherry-Evans-Munster-Holmes era that NSW will have to overcome – Queensland just keep producing them.

Maybe Brad Fittler has found the key to making NSW a genuine contender, but it’s far too early to rate them the new dynasty.

One thing is certain, rugby league’s Holy Grail is in the very best of hands.