Queensland has added another phenomenal last-gasp triumph to its incredible State of Origin legacy, edging New South Wales 18-16 via Dane Gagai’s 77th-minute try and injury-hampered champion Johnathan Thurston’s sideline conversion.
It was arguably the most unlikely of their many comeback victories. After conceding a ninth-minute opener to Maroons debutant Valentine Holmes, the Blues comprehensively dominated the first half to lead 16-6 at the break.
A slick backline movement saw Jarryd Hayne cross for a try that brought him level with Michael O’Connor as the state’s greatest Origin try-scorer with 11. James Maloney made a break to put Brett Morris over for NSW’s second in the 24th minute, and in their next possession Jake Trbojevic created a hole for James Tedesco, who found Mitchell Pearce in support for another try.
A pair of try-savers in the dying moments of the half typified the Blues’ all-round dominance.
The second half started in similar fashion, but a 60-metre try against the run of play – finished off by Gagai – in the 53rd minute changed the complexion of the contest.
The Blues crumbled mentally thereafter, throwing any semblance of a sensible game-plan out the window in a mistake-riddled final 25 minutes. They also inexplicably failed to target a clearly injured Thurston.
The Maroons – whose legendary spine members seemed off the pace overall – still didn’t seem capable of finding the knockout blow, but they eventually conjured it due to sheer weight of opportunity. Cameron Smith and Billy Slater combined, Michael Morgan flicked to Gagai, and the winger dived over for his second.
Thurston, as he so often has at this level, did the rest.
So how do the stunned New South Welshmen regroup ahead of a Suncorp Stadium decider? It was just the second time – and the first since 1987 – in eight instances they have won the series opener in Brisbane, only to drop Game 2 in their own backyard.
JT’s farewell is set to dominate the build-up to Game 3, though his troublesome shoulder may prevent him from taking the field in three weeks’ time. Nevertheless, it seems Queensland has somehow wrested favouritism away from the NSW in what will surely be one of the most feverishly anticipated Origin deciders ever.