Two young Panthers played starring roles as the NSW Under-16s put in a remarkable defensive performance to beat Queensland 12-10 at ANZ Stadium.
Shawn Blore was a constant menace in attack and his offload created the all-important second try for the Blues, while Lindsay Smith was reliable and hard-hitting in defence as he pulled off a number of crucial tackles.
David Fifita provided explosive impact for the entire game for Queensland, while the kicking game and control from Newcastle rising-stars Phoenix Crossland and Jock Madden steered the Brad Fittler-coached side to victory.
NSW conceded a penalty in the opening two minutes, immediately placing them under pressure, however some good Blues defence allowed them to vigorously bundle their opposition into touch.
They put themselves under more pressure soon after by giving away another penalty, but were let off the hook when the Queensland side lost the ball early in the tackle count.
The Blues came up with the first try of the night with a simply incredible solo effort from Bronson Xerri, who created something out of nothing, The ball was shifted wide and Queensland’s centre Jack Paterson made a bone-rattling tackle, however the ball was offloaded into the arms of Xerri, who put in a perfect grubber for himself, re-gathered and planted the ball down adjacent to the posts. It was a truly wonderful effort by the big centre.
Cliff Lea’aetoa handled himself brilliantly when his opposition winger, Jonathan Siofele charged towards the line, but the Parramatta junior stopped him dead in his tracks, and the ball was forced free.
It was an evenly poised first half of end-to-end football, and the defensive capabilities of both sides were on show as NSW scored the only try of the stanza before heading into the sheds.
Alike the first half, Queensland had the Blues under early pressure to begin the second-half, but some seriously disciplined NSW defence shut the Maroons attacking raid down once again.
The game was 75 per cent old before the Maroons finally cracked the Blues defence, when Baker gave Siofele a beautiful cut-out ball to open their account, however a missed conversion meant that NSW kept a slight two-point lead.
That lead was short-lived however, as the Maroons marched up-field from the kick-off set, and a penalty in front of the sticks allowed Queensland to lock up the scores with 14 minutes remaining.
Queensland had all the momentum, and they almost took the lead for the first time in the match when David Fifita broke through, before Nohra made good contact, which allowed a wayward offload to their open winger to spill into no-mans-land.
That missed opportunity became even more costly when the NSW boys marched up-field, spread the ball left to Shawn Blore, who threw a miraculous offload for Jock Madden to give it to William Kei to cross the line, something he’s done on many occasions this season to extend the Blues’ lead to 12-6.
A devastating error off the kick-off put the Maroons straight back on the attack, and a classy grubber by Baker set up Deizha Pene to score in the corner, but the kick was missed and the Blues kept a two-point lead with less then two-minutes remaining.
There were some tense moments in the final 90-seconds, but the Blues defence held on to record a wonderful victory.