Ahead of tonight’s all-important Game 2 Origin showdown, Wind-back Wednesday heads back to the corresponding clash 20 years ago.
NSW laid the foundation for a series-sealing victory in Melbourne with a first half onslaught, but Queensland fought back valiantly to level the scores before a John Simon field goal ultimately proved the difference in State of Origin’s 50th match – but only after Julian O’Neill’s late, long-range penalty goal fell agonisingly short.
Simon started at halfback after Andrew Johns pulled out injured, with captain Geoff Toovey shifting to hooker. Aaron Raper was selected to replace Johns in the No.9, but coach Tom Raudonikis opted to start the 1995 World Cup rake on the bench.
Queensland dropped Danny Moore and called O’Neill onto the bench; serial off-field offender O’Neill represented Super League Australia and Queensland’s Tri-Series side earlier in the season, but was punted by the Perth Reds for repeated behavioural breaches. He was snapped up by ARL club Souths and was rushed into the Maroons’ squad after just two games for the Rabbitohs.
With the playmaking assistance of Toovey and Jim Dymock, three-quarters Paul McGregor and Ken McGuiness terrorised the Maroons’ left-side defence. McGuiness and Dymock finished off outstanding team movements either side of a simple individual effort from close-range by Nik Kosef for NSW to lead 14-0 after 26 minutes.
But Queensland struck back twice in the last seven minutes before halftime. Billy Moore delivered a deft short ball at the end of a backline sweep for Matt Sing to punch through for the Maroons’ opening try, while Adrian Lam kept the Blues’ defence guessing before sending Robbie O’Davis over from close range with a clever pass.
The underdogs had cut the deficit to just four points at the break. Brett Dallas locked up the scoreboard just five minutes in the second period when he left opposing winger Jamie Ainscough posted with a dazzling step and zipped over in the corner. Desperate goal-line defence from both sides prevented any further tries being scored, but McGregor and McGuinness again combined to drive the Blues into enemy territory with 11 minutes on the clock.
Simon snapped a superb angled field goal from the 30-metre line, 15 metres in from touch on the ensuing play to edge NSW in front. But man-of-the-match McGregor provided Queensland with an opportunity to snatch victory when he laid out Sing with a clumsy high shot at the 75-minute mark.
O’Neill lined up a penalty kick from 34 metres out and 10 metres in from the left-hand touchline, but his attempt dropped just under the crossbar – his third miss of the night. The Blues had successfully, but narrowly, hung on to close out the series with a match to spare.
Raudonikis faced post-match criticism for leaving Raper unused on the bench – including from the hooker’s father, Immortal St. George lock John. The disappointing crowd at the cavernous MCG resulted in a nine-year Origin hiatus for the Victorian capital.