Wednesday night’s 100th State of Origin match was every bit as enthralling as that very first match back in 1980. It had everything and then some, with New South Wales enjoying a gutsy 12-8 win against the odds.
The Maroons – like the juggernaut they are – kept coming, and with a raucous Suncorp Stadium behind them most Blues fans probably thought the worst as the seconds ticked down.
But the Blues kept turning up and defending their try line like they have done many times before over the past eight years. This time there were no miracle last-minute heroics from the champion Queensland outfit.
After eighty minutes of sporting theatre that matched anything the World Series, Wimbledon or the Super Bowl could toss up, the Blues had victory.
There were acts of bravery and skill across the field.
Some played on with serious injury while others ran until they could run no more.
The difference in the end was New South Wales’ fullback Jarryd Lee Hayne.
“I remember being on the dead-ball line and I was on my knees and I literally could not feel my legs,” Hayne told Fairfax after his brilliant performance on Wednesday evening.
“Ronnie Palmer had to help me get up. I think I made it to the 20-metre line and I missed the whole set. I was just gone. I remember just thinking, ‘keep going, keep going’.
“I remember when I was younger Hayden Knowles had a lot of quotes and a lot of clips of people just moving their legs and telling themselves to just keep going and keep going.
“I remember there was a time there in my head I was saying ‘keep moving’. That was everyone’s mentality, not just mine. We gave it everything tonight.”
In previous years you may not have heard that from Hayne post-match. Sure, he has won a Dally M, appeared in a grand final for Parramatta and played many games for his state and country, but this was something else from the fullback.
Leading into the first Origin, the pressure was on Hayne to perform. It was coming from everywhere (including this writer) and it was up to the custodian to take the next step.
Time and time again we see stars not live up to the hype. Usually it’s another player taking the limelight with their own performance, but not this time.
The few remaining critics of Hayne are retreating.
With the Maroons up 4-0 after 19 minutes, Hayne skipped across Queensland’s 30-metre line shrugging away Johnathan Thurston before sucking the Queensland defenders in and deftly sending Josh Morris away down the western sideline of Suncorp, who in turn passed to his brother Brett for New South Wales’ opening try.
Then in the 33rd minute, and seemingly from nothing, Hayne burst through the Maroon wall again extending the visitors’ lead. In perhaps a poetically historic moment in Origin, it was three of Queensland’s greatest ever players grasping in vain to stop him, with Greg Inglis, Thurston and Cameron Smith unable to get to Hayne in time.
It was an inspiring performance among 34 stories of Origin guts.
But this story doesn’t finish here.
Parramatta fans will now be calling on Hayne to return to the Eels and keep that momentum rolling over the coming weeks. The best players in our game have been backing up and performing for years and Hayne is no exception.
It is a brutally cruel part of rugby league’s representative culture, but don’t think the players don’t thrive on it. Their bodies might be battered and bruised, but their competitive instincts take over almost like a badge of honour.
Hayne took another step forward in his career on Wednesday night, but the sign of a true champion is to be able to do it again when every part of you is telling you to rest.
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has already stated publically that Hayne might be a late withdrawal from tonight’s derby match against the Penrith Panthers.
You can bet though that if Hayne does play, he’ll be one of the best on ground.
That’s the badge of honour, and it’s the same for the other warriors backing up from Wednesday’s slugfest.
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