SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – 8 years, 2,920 days, 70,080 hours. This is how long the Australian State of New South Wales has had to wait for a State of Origin win over the (once) almighty Queensland Maroons.
A win in Game One in this historic 100th game series was the great hope for the Blues, hard-nosed and flowing, they went punch for punch with the vaunted Queensland line up and the game-breaker in Jarryd Hayne proved to be the difference, putting in one of the great Origin performances.
Game Two would be a different kettle of fish entirely. A cagey, gritty and often ugly game from both sides dominated by strong defence, would open up in the last 20 minutes as New South Wales attempted to chase down two early Maroon penalties and Queensland looked for the knockout punch. For a brief moment it looked like NSW would spurn their plethora of opportunities as their forwards constantly slammed the ball into a Maroon wall. Finally (and I do mean finally!) play-maker Trent Hodkinson got his hands on the ball, a shimmy and a look, and he blasted through a gap and into the Queensland try zone. Following up his try with what some may debate is the most important conversion in the history of State of Origin. 6-4, and the unflappable Maroons looked vulnerable, their passes did not stick and the final two minutes was a mishmash of handbags and dropped passes. But all that mattered was that the Maroon streak was ended!
Plenty of niggle throughout the game will see several bans handed out, no doubt. But the one constant will remain, the Blues may still not be able to match man-for-man what Queensland can offer, but their teamwork and determination was greater than any seen from a NSW side in the last decade. Their forward pack will take many of the plaudits, yes they were often slightly dull in not shifting the ball more often, but their runs into the heart of Queensland time and again showed their grim almost morbid refusal to give in.
So what now for these two titans of rugby league? For one season there is parity amongst the states, the Blues can revel in their win, and the Maroons may look for a slight overhaul of their side. A major injury to superstar play-maker Cooper Cronk in Game One, showed that whilst there is depth in the Queensland playing stocks (Daly Cherry Evans), the experience of the replacements for the Maroons golden generation will take some time to bed in. The great weapon for the Maroons has been the consistency of their spine in the last decade, Jonathan Thurston, Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater. With three of these players playing together for the Melbourne Storm there has been an innate understanding, their often incredibly luck at constantly being fit has meant they have often been the difference makers for Queensland. But there can be no doubt that the sun is setting on their time as a combination. Smith is aging well, but nevertheless ageing. Questions remain over whether Slater is still the best Queensland fullback, with young hotshot Anthony Milford, and the almighty Greg Inglis both playing there for their clubs. To make matters worse for Slater, the emergence of Will Chambers means that his glittering Origin career may be coming to an end (Chambers slots in at centre, with Inglis moving to fullback). Make no mistake the quality is still there for Queensland but as with all great sides, the transition may not be an easy one.
As for New South Wales, well many could argue they are about to be in the same conundrum, with a host of their old warhorses nearing the end of their careers (Paul Gallen, Ryan Hoffman and Greg Bird to name three). The next few Origin series could see a seesawing of results as both teams try to re-establish new combinations and set down new roots.
Game Three of this series may well see an explosion of aggression as Queensland aim to prove they are not going to roll over and die for next year and the Blues try to insure they take full advantage of their new found confidence and winning ability. The NRL’s zero tolerance policy on violence could be severely tested, bearing in mind the amount of barbed remarks and handbags there were in Game Two. There is an argument to be made that Queensland coach Mal Meninga could test out some up and coming stars whilst Blues coach Laurie Daley will be aiming to run Queensland faces in the dirt with a 3-0 series win.
There is one guarantee though, the next two or three seasons of Origin football could be some of the most exciting seen in decades. With the Queensland dominance broken, a confident NSW team will do battle with a vengeful Maroons side, which could lead to some outstanding rugby league.
With that, feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.