Tuesday 24 October 2017 / 10:25 PM

MAGIC MAROONS DOMINATE DECIDER

If ever a game has perpetuated the theories that Queenslanders grow 10-feet tall and bulletproof when they pull on the Maroon jersey and New South Wales just don’t get Origin, it was the remarkable 2017 decider.

This extraordinary Queensland side added another stirring chapter to their 12-season dynasty narrative via a 22-6 decimation of a shell-shocked NSW outfit at Suncorp Stadium.

It completed an amazing fight-back from a 28-4 loss in Game 1 and a 16-6 halftime deficit in Game 2 for the Maroons, while serving up arguably the Blues’ most devastating defeat yet.

After a evenly-fought opening period, novice centre Michael Morgan busted the game open in the 15th minute with a piece of edge brilliance that is quickly becoming his trademark, drawing in opposite Josh Dugan and Blues winger Blake Ferguson before slipping a superb offload inside for Valentine Holmes to dive over.

Alarm bells were piercing Blues eardrums soon afterwards when Melbourne’s ‘Big Three’ combined, only for Cooper Cronk to be denied by the smallest of knock-ons just before he reached the try-line.

But the halfback had something more memorable up his sleeve in the 27th minute. Cronk’s surgeon-like cross-field kick for Holmes to dot down for his second ranks as one of the great Origin try-assists.

The Maroons dominated the ruck, swarmed the Blues’ ball-runners in defence and scrambled on the rare occasions they had to. NSW’s attack was clunky, pedestrian and telegraphed. When the holes that presented themselves in the first half of the opening two games weren’t there, the Blues looked at each other confused, wondering if they’d stepped through a time portal to 2010.

But the 12-0 scoreline didn’t reflect the hosts’ dominance – Cameron Smith inexplicably bombed a try after a Tim Glasby break – and NSW breathed life into the contest by breaking a 100-minute try drought.

Josh Dugan latched onto a Mitchell Pearce bomb to score – the only one of many Pearce kicks that didn’t find the grass that actually benefitted his side; the hapless No.7 got an ‘A’ for effort in what always loomed as a career-defining outing, but a D- for execution.

The respite was brief.

Impressive in the first half, Cameron Munster set about erasing any doubt over his claims to the Queensland No.6 jumper with two sizzling try-assists in the 60th and 67th minutes.

First, it was a break and a cut-out pass from the versatile Storm star to send Holmes – who displayed amazing fingertip control – over for an Origin record-equalling third try, then a desperation last-tackle offload that laid on a dream four-pointer for front-row rookie Jarrod Wallace.

22-6. Game over, shield retained.

The Ben Hunt gamble was effectively redundant, coming on with eight minutes left. But the result was an unequivocal triumph for Kevin Walters and the Queensland selectors, who copped plenty in the build-up but came up trumps.

Even ‘Alfie’ Langer got in on the act.

On the back foot almost from the outset, the Blues’ lack of genuine leaders was palpable. Andrew Fifita – such a leviathan in Game 1 – had an out-and-out shocker, with bad habits and errors creeping into his game as frustration took over.

Pearce, Aaron Woods, Brett Morris and Blake Ferguson will do well to ever don the sky blue again…and this surely has to be the loss that sees Laurie Daley fall on his sword.

As hard as it is to move away from NSW bottling this series, the most glowing of accolades have to go to Queensland. The personnel they had unavailable – all-time greats Thurston, Matt Scott, Greg Inglis, Darius Boyd, as well as jettisoning stalwarts Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles and Jacob Lillyman for a mid-series regeneration – made this win all the more mind-blowing.

Billy Slater was sensational, capping a magnificent comeback from injury with arguably his greatest Origin performance, while Cam Smith and Cronk were at their string-pulling best.

And the Maroons proved they will be OK when those legends finally hang it up. Munster, Holmes and Morgan are destined to play 25-plus Origins. After tough debut outings, Wallace and Glasby did what unheralded Maroons forwards perennially do: punch above their weight and outplay bigger names in blue.

Special mention, too, for Dane Gagai, who should have a couple of man-of-the-match gongs under his belt by now, claiming a thoroughly deserved Wally Lewis Medal – the first winger to take out the award.

The decider was effectively a shrine to the injured Thurston; Munster honoured him with one of the greatest halves debuts in Origin history, while his long-time teammates produced a win as comprehensive and awe-inspiring as any JT was involved in.

Still, Thurston’s shadow will forever cloak the 2017 series after his folklore-bound conversion to win Game 2.

And that’s what it came down to for the distraught Blues: after a record-breaking win in the series opener and a 10-point halftime lead in the return clash, it was four minutes at ANZ Stadium that swung it all back to an all-too-familiar conclusion at Suncorp Stadium.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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