New South Wales has run riot in the opening game of the 2021 State of Origin series, scoring a state-record 50-6 victory over Queensland and ruining a momentous night for the Maroons in the first match to be played in regional Australia.
A COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria meant that it was not possible for the Melbourne Cricket Ground to host the match in a COVID-safe manner, therefore the landmark decision was made to shift Game 1 to Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
This meant that, for the first time in Origin history, one state had consecutive home games within the same series, with Queensland hosting Games 1 and 2 in Townsville and Brisbane, respectively.
That should’ve provided them the platform on which they could defend the Origin shield they so unexpectedly won last November, but Brad Fittler’s Blues flew north to the tropics on a clear mission to wrest the shield back.
The Blues struck first blood when they received a penalty from close range in the first ten minutes, with Nathan Cleary potting a simple penalty goal to give them a 2-0 lead after ten minutes.
The floodgates then opened seven minutes later when Tom Trbojevic scored the first try, before two tries to debutant Brian To’o in the space of five minutes saw the Blues race out to a 20-0 lead.
Kurt Capewell then pegged back a try for the Maroons to leave the halftime score at 20-6 in the Blues’ favour, but not before Christian Welch suffered a game-ending concussion injury.
The thousands of Maroons fans who packed Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville could only watch in stunned disbelief as the Blues ran riot in the second half, scoring five unanswered tries, including another two tries to Tom Trbojevic and a double to Latrell Mitchell.
The Maroons simply had no answers, left humiliated by their worst ever Origin defeat, even made more embarrassing given it took place on their very own state soil.
Conversely, the result marked not just the Blues’ biggest ever win in Queensland (surpassing the 28-4 victory in Game 1, 2017 at Suncorp Stadium), it was also their biggest ever Origin victory, eclipsing the 56-16 thrashing they dished out to the Maroons in Game 3, 2000.
It was also just the second time the Blues had ever scored 50 or more points in an Origin match, following that aforementioned third game in 2000, a year in which they achieved their last blue rise.
The Blues’ Penrith Panthers contingent of Brian To’o, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo were able to carry their club form into the Origin arena, while Mitchell produced easily his best performance on this stage in his first Origin since 2019.
As for the Maroons, the only solace they can take is that they have managed to defend the record 52-6 victory they achieved over the Blues in Game 3, 2015, at Suncorp Stadium.
It was also a horror first game in charge for coach Paul Green, who was in familiar territory in the sense that he was coaching in Townsville, where he led the North Queensland Cowboys to the ultimate glory in 2015, though they were playing out of the Willows Sports Complex at the time.
He and the Maroons will now attempt to pick up the pieces of their record defeat and look to quickly find a solution to their woes ahead of Game 2 at Suncorp Stadium on June 27.
Ben Hunt, who was named 19th man, will surely come under consideration for selection, while Josh Papalii will be available after he was suspended from the opening game following an incident involving Bulldogs winger Tuipulotu Katoa during Magic Round last month.
They could be without debutant Kyle Feldt and Cameron Munster after both were booked for on-field incidents involving Cameron Murray and Liam Martin, respectively.
As for the Blues, the challenge now is to maintain their focus for the second game, where they will need to smash two hoodoos if they are to win just their fourth series since 2005.
Not only have they not won at Suncorp Stadium since 2017, they have also not won a Game 2 at the ground since 2000, and coach Brad Fittler has also never experienced a win there in any coaching capacity.
But should they defy history and win the second game in Brisbane, then you can guarantee that Stadium Australia will be sold out for the third game on July 14, where up to 80,000 Blues fans will see their team lift the shield on home soil for just the second time since 2004.
A capacity crowd for the third game in Sydney will be guaranteed regardless, as the Maroons will be determined more than ever to hit back with a vengeance and look to send the series to a deciding game in five weeks’ time.
So, while it’s first blood to the Blues, it’s back to the drawing board for the Maroons as they attempt to keep the series alive in the sunshine capital on Sunday, June 27.