NSW celebrate State of Origin triumph
The NSW Blues survived a trademark Queensland fightback with a man in the sin bin to officially mark the end of the Maroons dynasty and claim just their second State of Origin series in 13 years.
Rookie coach Brad Fittler's investment in youth has paid off, with the baby-faced Blues showing incredible grit in defence to record an 18-14 win at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
The Blues, who were given a contentious penalty try in the first half, looked like they would suffer the same late-match jitters they had in previous years when James Roberts was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul on Gavin Cooper with 11 minutes remaining.
But the Blues, aided by some critical errors by Queensland during that period, showed the mental toughness to deny the Maroons of a last-ditch win despite the brilliance of rookie Kalyn Ponga and veteran Billy Slater.
Sadly, it's a memorable night Blues captain Boyd Cordner is unlikely to remember, helped from the field with six minutes to go after a heavy concussion.
Match: Blues vs Maroons
Game 2 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium
- Nine Network
Queensland greats Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk – who all called it quits before this series - left it to Slater to carry the torch. And carry it he did.
Queensland looked lifeless in attack in the opening game of the series. And if you were looking for a reason as to why, you didn't have to wait too long on Sunday night to figure it out.
Slater's return, replacing Michael Morgan at fullback, immediately turned a pedestrian-like attack into a potent juggernaut the Blues struggled to contain.
Slater managed to drag in James Roberts and turn a three-on-three raid into a try to Valentine Holmes, before doing a similar thing on the other side of the field five minutes later to send Dane Gagai over for a 10-0 lead.
The Blues looked shellshocked. They spent all their energy defending for the first 25 minutes of the game until Josh Addo-Carr capitalised on a James Maloney cut-out pass and some sliding Queensland defence to reduce the deficit to four points.
Then the alarm bells began ringing around ANZ Stadium when Kalyn Ponga was injected into the contest with 12 minutes remaining in the opening half.
It seemed like a dangerous period for the Blues, however, an error against the Maroons just seconds later meant they wouldn't touch the ball for the next five minutes.
In that time controversy reared its head, with Boyd Cordner awarded a penalty try - the second time in Origin history and the first time in 37 years - to give the Blues a 12-10 buffer.
On almost the same patch of turf that he dropped a kick-off to help the Cowboys to a premiership in the 2015 grand final, Hunt turned villain once again.
The bunker was called on to decide and it was deemed Hunt denied Cordner the chance to score what would have likely been a NSW try given no Queenslanders would have beaten him to the ball.
And just like that NSW went in the sheds with a lead they probably didn't deserve such was the dominance of the Maroons in the opening 40 minutes.
The second half started like the first, with Queensland looking the more likely. But another error, this time from Gagai working it out of his own half, once again invited NSW into the contest.
Enter Latrell Mitchell. Nine days ago he was lying on the floor of Allianz Stadium in tears fearing he may never walk again. A week later he ran over Australian centre Will Chambers from close range to push the Blues out to an eight-point lead.
But that youthful exuberance that had held Mitchell in good stead throughout the series proved costly soon after, pushing a pass from a 20-metre tap on zero tackle that led to a Chambers try from the ensuing Maroons set.
In front of 82,223 fans at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night, it looked like Queensland would do what Queensland usually do.
But new faces. A new culture. A new coach. It was all New South Wales.
News & Notes: NSW's win secured their first series victory since 2014 and just their second in 13 years ... hookers Damien Cook (42) and Andrew McCullough (49) were the top tacklers for their respective teams ... the Blues' penalty try in the first half was the first in Origin since 1981 ... Kalyn Ponga made 29 tackles in his Origin debut ... Both teams scored three tries but goal-kicking was the difference, as James Maloney booted 3/3 and Val Holmes kicked 1/3.
Origin at Suncorp, there's nothing like it! Game III tickets still available here.