THE people you didn’t see highlight just how special Queensland’s achievement was this year.
As the Maroons celebrated yet another Origin series win on the Suncorp Stadium turf — courtesy of a 22-6 victory over the Blues on Wednesday night — there was something different about a sight that’s become so familiar over the past decade.
While Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater were there, others weren’t. There was no Johnathan Thurston, no Greg Inglis, no Darius Boyd and no Matt Scott. But it didn’t matter to a Queensland side that thrives on adversity.
Kevin Walters’ troops were humbled in Brisbane six weeks ago but they were determined to ensure lightning didn’t strike twice, saving their best performance of the series for when it mattered most.
They were on from the start, threatening down the right edge via Will Chambers and Dane Gagai. But it was another outside back who stole the show early as Michael Morgan — shifted into the centres to cover for the loss of Boyd — dished off a brilliant one-handed offload as he drifted near the sideline to gift Valentine Holmes the opening try of the match.
Cooper Cronk almost crossed a minute later but he lost the ball inches short of the line when he dived too early under pressure from Brett Morris. But it was vintage Cronk 10 minutes later when a pinpoint cross-field kick that went barely more than five metres off the ground found an unmarked Holmes on the chest and Queensland doubled its advantage to lead 12-0.
NSW struggled to find any fluency in attack and was lucky to avoid going into the sheds facing an even bigger deficit when an uncharacteristic Cameron Smith blunder robbed his team of what would have been a certain four-pointer.
After Tim Glasby picked up a loose ball and streaked away James Maloney managed to cut him down just metres short of the line. As Blues defenders struggled to get back Smith failed to take advantage of a three-on-one overlap on the left, going himself before throwing an offload that went forward.
NSW started the better of the teams in the second half and Josh Dugan showed great determination to out-muscle two defenders and latch onto a Maloney bomb as he went over for the visitors’ first points.
But Queensland defended its line then hit back on the hour mark. Debutant Cameron Munster — who was virtually perfect in the No. 6 jersey — burst through some poor defence from Boyd Cordner and Mitchell Pearce then threw a long ball out wide to Holmes. Holmes collected the ball in one hand, juggled it and then evaded an attempted cover tackle from Blake Ferguson to complete his hat-trick.
Munster was back in the action again not long after, throwing a speculative offload 10m out from the NSW line after poking his nose through the line. Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita were too slow to react on the inside and Jarrod Wallace scooped the ball up and crossed untouched to score his first Origin try and seal the series.
75th min: James Maloney tried to recreate the miracle try Cooper Cronk set up for Valentine Holmes in the first half but his kick was off target and sailed over the sideline on the full.
69th min — BROUHAHA: Andrew Fifita started some push and shove when he took offence to Queensland but it didn’t erupt into anything major.
59th min — ‘SICKENING, ILLEGAL’: Jarryd Hayne was prevented from challenging for a high kick when he was blocked by Cooper Cronk. Channel Nine’s Phil Gould was furious. “It is terrible the way blockers do that these days. They didn’t give chasers any chance whatsoever,” he said. “That’s just illegal but they let it go all the time.”
58th min — NSW has worked itself back into the contest in the second half. The Blues have had the running early in the second stanza and is looking the more likely of the two teams to post points.
55th min — PENALTY: Just when it looked like some bruising NSW defence would force a Queensland error, Wade Graham was penalised for stripping. He gave away a similar penalty in Game 2 that many pointed to as one of the turning points that handed the Maroons momentum before they went on to win.
54th min — MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Queensland defended its line brilliantly for two sets. The ball ended up in Boyd Cordner’s hands after a bomb went to ground and his overhead offload was put down by a teammate.
44th min — KNOCK ON: It was vintage Billy Slater as he raced across-field and broke through the NSW line, throwing a one-handed offload to Will Chambers in space on his outside about 25m out from the Blues’ line. But Chambers couldn’t hold on and NSW regained possession.
42nd min — Much like the opening couple of sets of the match, both sides started the second stanza with their forwards rolling the ball up the middle of the field. But NSW’s second set didn’t go to plan, Boyd Cordner knocking on after again getting his timing mixed up.
37th min — INCREDIBLE SAVE: A stray NSW pass hit a Queensland defender on the head and Tim Glasby picked the ball up and streaked downfield on his own. James Maloney chased and brought him down a few metres short of the line in what Phil Gould called a “miraculous” save and a “miracle”. The NSW defenders were struggling to get back to their tryline and Queensland was destined to score, but Cameron Smith ignored an obvious overlap by going himself, then his offload was ruled to have gone forward. “That’s an incredible save from NSW,” Gould said. “He’s done a Jarryd Hayne,” Paul Vautin added, referencing Hayne’s botched try in Game 2 when he dummied instead of passing to his winger.
34th min — HANDOVER: NSW is struggling for any potency in attack. Jarryd Hayne was forced to grubber out wide on the left about 15m out from Queensland’s line but was unable to regather and the Maroons won the ball back.
24th min — KNOCK ON: NSW finally managed to get into some decent field position. Tyson Frizell almost busted through a tackle on the right edge about 40m out from Queensland’s line and offloaded to Josh Dugan, but the centre spilled the ball.
18th min — NO TRY: Cooper Cronk botched a certain try when he appeared destined to score under the sticks after Billy Slater made a bust through the middle. Slater passed to the halfback when he drew NSW fullback James Tedesco but Cronk dived too early and lost the ball just inches before the line. It was winger Brett Morris who made the last ditch play to stop Cronk, miraculously doing just enough to disrupt the Queensland No. 7.
12th min — James Tedesco spilled a bomb and James Maloney was penalised for being accidentally offside. Queensland had an entire set on the NSW line but the Blues held firm, spared by a Cameron Munster slip when it look like the debutant would poke his nose through a hole.
9th min — Queensland continues to look threatening down the right edge with Will Chambers and Dane Gagai almost finding space down the sideline. Boyd Cordner mistimed an earlier run near the Maroons’ tryline gifting them the ball.
6th min — NSW defended its line against a Queensland attacking raid when the Maroons got themselves into good field position courtesy of a penalty.
3rd min — Brett Morris was prevented from challenging for a James Maloney bomb when Will Chambers stood his ground and knocked the NSW winger off his feet. Peter Sterling said in Channel Nine commentary the block was fine because Chambers maintained his position, but it was a moment of controversy because the referees said before the match they would be cracking down on defenders obstructing kick chasers.