Queensland’s quest to claim back the State of Origin shield in 2019 has got off to the perfect start, the Maroons beating New South Wales 18-14 in Game 1 at Suncorp Stadium.
Three second-half tries to Kevin Walters’ side were enough to see off the Blues, and while Jake Trbojevic crossed with five minutes to go to set up a tight finish, it was a deserved win for the Maroons.
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It was a fast-paced start to the game, both sides trading good field position without really threatening to score before the first break in play ten minutes in. Shortly after, the Blues opened the scoring through a penalty 13 minutes in.
Queensland almost crossed for the first try of the game in successive phases, first after Will Chambers broke down the right and put Dane Gagai away down the touchline, next after Corey Oates put his boot on the chalk before touching down in the opposite corner.
The Bunker, which was called into action to confirm the Oates no-try, then denied the Blues a four-pointer when Cameron Munster was ruled to have grounded the ball for a drop-out just before Tyson Frizell got a hand to it.
But the Blues didn’t have to wait much longer for the first try of the game, Josh Morris crossing on his return to the Origin arena the very next set. Some superb James Tedesco footwork left Munster floundering and allowed the fullback to put Morris through the smallest of gaps to bust over the try-line.
The pre-game concerns around Ben Hunt’s unfamiliar role at hooker proved to be on the money, Damien Cook and Tedesco constantly finding metres up through the middle of the ground.
But Queensland comfortably finished the half the better of the two sides. The Blues’ left edge defence was shaky throughout, Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker failing to perform cohesively in their new partnership.
Cameron Munster was able to exploit that weakness with a surging break and filthy dummy which sent Mitchell entirely the wrong way, but Chambers was pulled down by Josh Addo-Carr before he could finish off the good work.
Hunt then put the Maroons in great position to finish the half after a near-40-20 went found touch via Tedesco, but the home side were unable to score before the break despite that.
Queensland’s stronger play continued into the second half, the Maroons dominating for the opening ten minutes and finally reaping some reward on the scoreboard when a superb Kalyn Ponga cut-out pass put Oates away to finish in the corner, before the young fullback converted from the sideline.
Brad Fittler opted to put Jack Wighton into the game for Walker, but the Maroons’ superiority continued, and the pressure told when a Daly Cherry-Evans kick forced Mitchell to pull down Matt Gillett metres from the try-line. The Bunker denied Queensland’s calls for a penalty try, but the New South Wales centre was sent to the bin for ten minutes at a time his side could ill-afford to be down a man.
Ponga duly converted the ensuing penalty to tie the scores up at eight apiece.
New South Wales looked to have avoided any further scoreboard damage with 12 men, somehow keeping Queensland at bay for most of the following ten minutes, only to be hit when they were on the attack.
Wighton slid across the field ten metres out from the Queensland try, but his forced pass to Addo-Carr was easily picked off by Dane Gagai to speed away for the intercept try.
Just minutes later, Gagai found himself crossing for try number two – this one courtesy of another Ponga pass – after Queensland had been gifted field position by a Tedesco knock on.
Gagai’s second try was the sealer, with Ponga’s conversion putting the Maroons up by ten and the Blues out of the game.
The final result was no more than the Maroons deserved, having had three tries disallowed – albeit correctly – and enjoying the better of the play for much of the last hour.
While Ponga and Munster were superb in driving Queensland to victory, it was the Maroons forward pack which delivered the win, not giving the New South Wales halves a platform to gain good field position. Nathan Cleary was quiet in the second half after a strong first 40 minutes, while Walker was ineffective on his Origin debut.
For the Blues, Damien Cook was outstanding throughout, and Tedesco was also strong despite his knock-on.
The series now moves to Perth for Game 2 of the series, to be played on Sunday, June 23 at Optus Stadium.