The Maroons were valiant right to the end. They dug as deep as any Queensland side I’ve ever seen. But they just didn’t have enough high-calibre players to prevail.
Conversely, while the Blues never truly looked like a cohesive, well-organised or focused side, they had James Tedesco making and taking every opportunity.
They had Damien Cook weaving his magic when it mattered.
They had Blake Ferguson making no errors and playing brilliantly in attack.
They had Jack Wighton absolutely pounding his opponents in one of the most aggressive outside-back defensive displays since Laurie Daley wore the sky blue.
They had David Klemmer and Boyd Cordner taking the really hard runs when they mattered.
They had Tyson Frizell tackling like his life depended on it.
While Daniel Saifiti’s position in the side may not yet be fully secure, all other 16 NSW players are bona fide representative players.
The same just can’t be said of the Maroons line up.
Sure, Cameron Munster was huge all night and Josh Papalii was magnificent. The hard-to-like Josh McGuire never gave an inch either. They were the match of anything the Blues put up.
However, the arm wrestle between the rest of the troops saw the Blues come out on top. Not because the team was more cohesive or better organised – I’d argue they weren’t – but because, pound for pound, the NSW team had more talent.
If Jai Arrow, Matt Gillett and Kalyn Ponga had been available, perhaps the story would have been different, but Queensland just didn’t have the depth to cover their injury-enforced absences.
The likes of Dylan Napa and Jarrod Wallace earlier in the series, and Tim Glasby, David Fifita, Christian Welch, Will Chambers (eight missed tackles) and Dane Gagai (seven missed tackles) just weren’t able to measure up to the quality of their opponents.
And it is what decided the series.
Sure, there was the case of Ethan Lowe – who this time last season was languishing in the Queensland Cup and I probably wouldn’t have picked in a club 17 this week – making 53 tackles, breaking five, running for 102 metres and performing a brilliant charge-down that brought his side right back into the game.
Lowe’s performance is what we’ve come to expect from the meat-and-potatoes players picked to wear maroon. They grow an extra leg. They find something extra. But many of his teammates just weren’t able to go with the curiously coiffured Rabbitoh.
While the Maroons fought back valiantly to level the scores at 20-all with two minutes to go, NSW had the strike power to hit back even when their side looked to be totally on the back foot.
Every time it seemed that Queensland had taken control, Tedesco – the rightful player of the series – was at the core of the Blues wresting back the ascendency.
In the 34th minute, with his side looking disorganised, the fullback went on an awesome run that led directly to the Paul Vaughan try. In the 51st minute, he spied an opportunity and had the strength and speed to get across the line.
The ever-obnoxious Jimmy Maloney then put the conversion over from the sideline.
The home side were back in control.
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In the 60th minute, Damien Cook spied tired defenders and sent David Klemmer barrelling into them. Cook urged a quick play from the big unit and then blasted off from marker, through the line, stood up the valiant Munster, and scored to take the lead out to what seemed like a winning margin.
Ben Hunt just didn’t pose any sort of danger at dummy half for the Maroons.
But somehow Queensland rallied. First McGuire barged over, and then when Josh Papalii crossed the line and Ethan Lowe converted beautifully, you just knew that Mitchell Pearce was destined to never win a decider or a series.
He was actually the albatross.
But that wasn’t the script this time.
With 40 seconds to go, Pearce threw a cut-out pass to Tom Trbojevic, who in turn set Blake Ferguson free down the touch line. Corey Norman desperately tried to bring Ferguson down but the big winger stepped out of the attempt, stayed in, then got the pass away to – guess who – Tedesco, who appropriately won the game for the Blues.
As close as Queensland got – as brilliantly as they had done in wresting back the ascendency – the Blues just had more firepower. They had more individual talent.
Perhaps Kevin Walters is now reaping the inevitable yield of having such a stable team for the best part of a decade, with only a trickle of players being blooded at this, the most elite tier of rugby league in the world.
You won’t find a Queenslander who regrets any part of that golden era of those 11 series wins in 12 years though.
But that era is over. That dynasty is gone. To the victor rightly has gone the spoils.
The after-match coverage was full of celebrations. Sure, there were moments when they got a bit carried away – such as when Josh Addo-Carr said that Blake Ferguson was a role model for all kids – however, the Blues players were justified in being euphoric in victory.
It was fittingly capped off by footage of Maloney, Wighton and Cordner in electric-blue fright wigs, and of course coach Brad Fittler skolling a beer.
We’ve just witnessed the first back-to-back wins for NSW in 14 years. Not since 2005, the last time the Blues came back from a one-nil series deficit, has that happened.
And this is just the third time in Origin history that the New South Welshmen have come back from one-nil to lift the shield. In 38 series, it is only the fifth time they have won a decider – and there have been 20 of them.
Unless the Maroons start developing new talent – and quickly – this may be the start of a NSW era of dominance.
A glance at the current NRL table shows all three Queensland teams in the bottom four. That doesn’t bode well for any immediate improvement in the player options.
I’d be pretty worried if I was a Queenslander because you gave the New South Welshmen a hard time for a long time and you weren’t at all gracious about it.
You’d better be bringing some A-Grade cattle through – and fast – or things could get really ugly.