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No white wash for the Blues as Maroons farewell Slater in style

Valentine Holmes of Queensland is congratulated by team mates after scoring a try 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 Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
11th July, 2018
2

They may have lost the series even before stepping foot onto Suncorp Stadium, but Queensland proved that they were anything but also-rans, defeating New South Wales by 18-12 in the final game at home.

The Maroons returned home playing for pride after losing Games 1 and 2 in Melbourne and Sydney respectively and, as was the case in 2003 and 2014, were looking to avoid an embarrassing whitewash on home soil and first since 2000.

Giving them the incentive to win was the fact Billy Slater was playing his final Origin game and, as the most-experienced Maroon, he was fittingly given the captaincy after Greg Inglis was ruled out due to a thumb injury.

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

He almost scored the first try after five minutes of play, but it was knocked back after video replays showed a knock-on in the lead-up. However, it would not take long for the Maroons to score first, doing so through Valentine Holmes.

All the momentum were clearly with the hosts when Blues five-eighth James Maloney was sin-binned ten minutes out from half-time for a professional foul on Slater.

But against the run of play, the Blues managed to score two tries, the first a length-of-the-field try from winger Tom Trbojevic, during Maloney’s time off the field to take a 12-8 lead into half time.

At this point, the clean sweep appeared on course, but the Maroons would return for the second half the stronger side, with Holmes scoring his second try and much-maligned halfback Daly Cherry-Evans crossing shortly after, to give the Maroons an 18-12 lead which they would hold until the final siren.

In winning the final game at home, the Maroons repeated what they did in 2003 and 2014 when they won the meaningless final game in front of their fans after having lost the opening two games.

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And while Billy Slater could not depart the State of Origin arena with a series win like Darren Lockyer and Petero Civoniceva did in 2011 and 2012 respectively, at least he was still able to leave on a positive note.

In his 31st and final Origin match, and first and only as captain, Slater was also named the Wally Lewis Medallist for being the best player throughout the series.

This generated some controversy, at least within New South Wales, as he had missed Game 1 due to a hamstring injury as well as the fact the Maroons had surrendered the shield for just the second time since 2005.

But there is no doubting his status as one of the greatest players to have graced the State of Origin arena, and his loss will leave some large shoes to be filled in the Maroons’ backline.

Coach Kevin Walters will also be breathing a sigh of relief after avoiding becoming the first Maroons coach since Mark Murray in 2000 to suffer the ignominy of overseeing a whitewashed series.

After taking over from Mal Meninga at the end of 2015, Walters has overseen a transitional change of the side, but if Game 3 is anything to go by, there is no doubt the future will start to look bright again.

Overlooked for three years, Cherry-Evans easily played the best Origin match of his career, while Holmes finished the series with the most tries of any player, taking his tally to eight tries in five matches.

Inevitably, though, the Maroons will have to carry out the post-mortem into their series defeat, but there won’t be any real scrutiny as there were when New South Wales endured their twelve years of Origin misery between 2006 and 2017 (sans 2014).

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After the celebrations and tributes died down for the Maroons, it was left to NSW captain Boyd Cordner to lift the Origin shield in front of a near-empty Suncorp Stadium, again raising questions as to whether they should have been allowed to do so after their Game 2 win in Sydney.

It is the third consecutive time the Blues have had to lift the shield in Brisbane, after Danny Buderus in 2005 and Paul Gallen did likewise in 2014; in both years, the Blues had to contend with playing two games in Brisbane.

For the record, 2004 was the last time the Blues managed to win a series with the advantage of two home games, winning both. And it won’t be until at least 2021 that they will have such an advantage again, with games to be played in Adelaide next year and Perth in 2020.

Cordner paid tribute to the Maroons’ legion of retiring stars, before proclaiming that he was proud to be a New South Welshman and also putting to rest any criticism of his club form with the Sydney Roosters.

By winning this year’s series, coach Brad Fitter repeated what his Queensland counterpart did just two years earlier, winning his rookie series within the first two games and also becoming the first man since Ricky Stuart in 2005 to win his first series as Blues coach.

While the Game 3 defeat has put a dampener on things, it will now remain to be seen whether the Blues can take the momentum from their series win this year going forward, or whether normal service will resume in 2019.

And that’s all she wrote for State of Origin 2018; huge congratulations go to New South Wales for taking out just their second series win under rookie coach Brad Fittler, and most importantly, commiserations to Queensland, who as we all know will be back bigger and better in 2019.