ORIGIN 1: Queensland Maroons v. New South Wales Blues (Suncorp Stadium, 5/6/19)

The first State of Origin fixture of 2019 started with a bang, with both sides moving the ball up and down the park, and completing all their sets, resulting in in no stoppages for almost the first ten minutes. Seven minutes in, Nathan Cleary kicked a bit hard for James Tedesco, and the Steeden skittered over the dead ball line, getting the Maroons a seven tackle set and a chance to break the deadlock. It didn’t come to anything though, as Tedesco cleaned up a Daly Cherry-Evans kick at the end of the set, and followed up with a brilliant run on the first tackle at the ten minute mark.

The first error of the game came shortly after, as Dane Gagai reached out a hand to intercept a flick pass from Latrell Mitchell to Josh Ado-Carr, but ended up knocking it on in the process. The Blues now got the scrum feed, and then some additional energy following a slow peel from Ben Hunt on Boyd Cordner. They opted to take the two, as Mitchell put the first points of the night on the board, before the first offload of the match put Damien Cook through the line a couple of minutes later.

Once again, an advantage came to nothing, however, as NSW failed to trap Gagai in goal at the end of this set. The Maroons now looked very dangerous on the penultimate tackle of the following set, thanks to a linebreak from Will Chambers, who shifted the footy out to Cameron Munster, only for the Blues to somehow contain this massive surge from Queensland’s right attack. The home team regathered quickly, however, opting for a rapid left play to try and disorient NSW.

Corey Oates crashed over at the end of it all, but the replay showed that his right foot had made contact with the sideline, thanks in part to some big pressure from Josh Morris. This would be the first of two disallowed tries for the Maroons over the first stanza, although the Blues were the next to have their hearts in their mouths after Tedesco lost the football at the start of the next set. Luckily, for the away crowd, it turned out to be a strip from Jai Arrow and the second penalty for NSW.

Tyson Frizell now stepped up, and came very close to busting through the defence two tackles later, thanks to a short ball from Cleary. Cook followed up with a right foot kick on the last tackle that Munster only just managed to clean up in goal after fumbling it once in an attempt to secure possession. Despite some big pressure from the NSW defence, he managed to tap it down before Frizell came in to get a hand to it, with Michael Morgan close behind in case his five-eighth needed any assistance.

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The Blues now got the first dropout of the night, although Munster’s kick gave the Maroons more than enough time to reform their defensive line. In response, Tedesco put in his most dazzling run of the game so far, dodging around Munster on the Blues’ right edge, then pausing for a moment before passing the footy across to Morris. Although the Cronulla backliner had Morgan and Oates around him from five metres out, Teddy had set him up with enough momentum and field position to crash right through them for the first four points of Origin 1.

It was a perfect start for NSW – a veteran player scoring the first try, and Tedesco flexing his muscles with a brilliant try assist. Things got even better from there, as Cleary added the extras to make it an eight point lead, Payne Haas replaced Paul Vaughan for a fresh pair of legs, and a knock-on from Will Chambers gave the Blues even more of a competitive edge. Tedesco now took the first run out of the scrum, before almost crashing over on the fourth tackle after NSW headed left, but Ponga cleaned up the football after Cook’s kick, neutralizing some of the Blues’ pressure.

The visitors responded with a surge of momentum, thanks to a linebreak from Cook and a miracle pass to Tedesco. Yet this prompted an even greater surge from the hosts, starting with a huge tackle from Felise Kaufusi to prevent Teddy making the most of Cook’s dexterity and vision. Ponga then broke through the line at the start of the next set, before Tedesco was pinged for holding down, and Cody Walker for a flop, gifting the Maroons an additional bout of fresh field position each time.

Each time, too, Queensland chose to tap and go, building a mounting rhythm of attack that DCE capped off perfectly with a kick at the posts that utterly defied the NSW defence, before landing in the hands of Dylan Napa. While Napa came close to grounding the footy with his forearms, he was deemed to have – just – lost control as he did so, making this the second frustrated try of the night for the Maroons, even if the call was a bit more contentious this time around than Oates’ clear sideline error.

This put a big dent in the Queensland momentum, and it was compounded by a huge trysaving tackle from Walker and Tedesco on Chambers, following a superb linebreak from Munster. Five minutes out from half time, Chambers got his own back with a massive hit on Mitchell. Seconds later, Hunt went for a 40/20, and while Teddy might have got a hand to the Steeden on the sideline, this was still a scrum feed for the Maroons, who got some additional field position when Ado-Carr took a miscalculated risk by trying to intercept a pass from Ponga to Chambers.

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Combined with an offside penalty from Mitchell, this gave the Maroons a sustained bout of field position in the last couple of minutes, but the Blues’ defence held strong, and the two teams trotted into the sheds at 8-0. The second stanza started with a dangerous tackle from Josh McGuire, and then a knock-on from Cameron Murray, but neither team were able to capitalise on the error. When the next points came, they were from Oates, who made good on his botched try at the fifty-second minute.

Oates’ try was simple, elegant and assured – just what the Maroons needed for their first four points on the board. The play started with Kaufusi, who forced Morris to commit before sending the footy back to Ponga, who responded with the cut-out pass that gave Oates room to sail through the air – not a chance of touching the sideline this time – before slamming the Steeden to ground. Both Tedesco and Nick Cotric were left behind, narrowing the deficit to two points once Ponga booted through the extras.

The Blues regathered for an enormous defensive effort to hold up Morgan in goal, but Mitchell took the defensive drive too far shortly after, landing a massive tackle on Matt Gillett just before he arrived at the football at the end of a galvanising Queensland set. While Tedesco was too close to Gillett to make this a penalty try, Mitchell was still awarded a professional foul, leaving the Blues with twelve men on the field, and without one of their most important players, as Ponga slotted through the penalty goal to bring the score to 8-all.

The Maroons now needed to break the game open over the last fifteen minutes, while the Blues needed to survive with a man off the field. The Blues almost made it, but a minute before Mitchell returned Jack Wighton opted for a flick pass to Ado-Carr that ended up travelling straight into the hands of Gagai, who stormed up the field for an intercept try, and exactly the breakout effort that Queensland needed. While Mitchell was back on the field moments later, he couldn’t prevent Gagai slamming over for a double a few minutes later, off a superb pass from Ponga.

After such a slow start, the speed of these two tries seemed to guarantee the Maroons the game, especially since NSW hadn’t scored a try since the first quarter of the match, and given Gagai’s stellar history with Origin doubles. Queensland were now ten points ahead with less than ten minutes on the clock – Ponga had missed one of the sideline conversions – meaning that the Blues had to play their very best football all night if they were going to have a chance at coming away with the win.

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With five minutes to go, Jake Trbojevic took the first step, charging through DCE under the posts for another four points and the easiest conversion of the night for Cleary. Yet he Maroons managed to hang onto their four point lead, despite a huge run from Mitchell on the right and then a superb offload from Angus Crichton that Ben Hunt just prevented Cleary from securing. There will be even more pressure on the Blues to deliver, then, when they host the Maroons for Origin 2, and to prevent this Queensland side for congealing and consolidating into another dynasty.

About Billy Stevenson (751 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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