If you squinted, it could have been Souths. Cam Murray to the line, Cody Walker even deeper, a pass out the back, a catch-pass and the winger racing clear. Accor Stadium has seen plenty of it in the last few years, and got it amped up to 11 not once, but twice.
Walker was the game’s best player, the player most likely to make something happen. Given this performance, it’s baffling that he wasn’t included previously.
When the great reckoning is done on this series, it will be one rated as a missed opportunity for New South Wales.
The Blues lost last year, but largely stayed loyal to the combinations that delivered that defeat, with Brad Fittler’s insistence on Panthers-lite tactics easily read by Billy Slater and his backroom staff.
Tonight, they found a solution to that in Walker. Annoyingly for Blues fans, it was a solution that was there for them all along, and, really, crying out to them.
This isn’t a knock on Jarome Luai, who is a perfectly fine, but in a series where you need the best of the best, he’s just that inch down on Cody Walker. The insistence on club form blinded Fittler to picking the best 17 available.
Fundamentally, Origin is different to a club game and requires a different skillset. Yes, the Panthers are the best club team and have been. But they do that as unit, a 17-man system of moving parts of which Luai is just one.
In Origin, you can’t build a system and, as Queensland have demonstrated time and again, you pick the best guys possible and trust them to be great.
Therre’ll be a lot of focus on the performance of Bradman Best, and while he was good, but it’s easy to be that good when you’re standing outside a guy in the form that Walker is in.
It’s oft-mentioned in reference to the Souths five eighth, but he’s a pure footballer: all guile, touch and experience. Age is nothing but a number when you’ve got all your skills between your ears.
Walker’s strength here was that he can fall into structure and then play totally outside of it. His work with Murray inside was a carbon copy of his day job at the Bunnies, but his sleight of hand to put Best over for his first try was classic Cody.
Walker was excellent, but as much as Best prospered outside of him, he prospered outside of Murray.
The Bunnies captain might not necessarily be better in the ball-playing lock role than the man he replaced, Isaah Yeo – it’s probably a question of taste – but he is undeniably faster than him, which makes a huge difference to the quality of ball that reaches the five eighth.
At Penrith, Yeo’s job is as much picking the plays as enacting them, whereas Murray’s is more simplified. He tends to leave the choice to someone else and simply perform his role within the system.
That extra half-second is the difference between a jam defence that works and one that creates indecision: twice, Best got the catch-pass in before the tackler arrived. If Yeo had been in the 13, the move would have ended there.
It’s hard to work out whether Fittler finally settled on the best team, or whether this win comes in spite of him. It was his call to swap Yeo and Murray and his call to play Keaon Koloamatangi, who didn’t look out of place at this level, so there’s kudos there.
But one wonders if Walker would have ever got a run had Nathan Cleary not gone down injured, and if Yeo would have played prop had his club halfback also been there.
Several of his selections didn’t work, but it didn’t matter. Clint Gutherson got three minutes, Jacob Saifiti got just 26 minutes and he relied on a lock as a prop.
If this is Fittler’s last game, it will stand as a testament to his confused coaching style. When he was good, it was because he trusted his best players to play the game in front of them.
Neither Tom Trbojevic or Latrell Mitchell were regular centres, but he had to get them on the field and when they were there, they played the game in front of them.
Had he done that from Game 1, and picked his most naturally gifted players, things might have been different.
For a decent whack of the first half, this felt a lot like the previous two games as NSW dominated field position and possession. The difference, this time, was that they actually took their chances.
It didn’t stop Queensland playing their game. The Maroons still shifted when they got it in anything like a decent area and, before the other team’s number six took over, Cam Munster was the game’s best player.
But this just wasn’t quite the same intensity as last time. AJ Brimson is fundamentally a different player to Reece Walsh and struggled to have the same zip along the edges as the Broncos man.
Instead, the best Maroons work came through the middle, with hard carries and offloads generating breaks, with only Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow’s try a result of catching the edge defence for speed.
It’s hard to criticise this Queensland team for much, given where they were going into this game. The Blues didn’t outplay them, but just had a little more in intensity and got points where, in the other games, they didn’t. That’s why sweeps are so rare.
It’s the nature of Origin, where almost every game is close and the teams are generally very well matched. There’s no shame here. Queensland will be annoyed to lose on the night, but they win either way.