STATE OF ORIGIN: Maroons v. Blues (Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 9/6/21, 50-6)
The Blues have come away with one of their absolutely iconic Origin wins, defying one of the most Maroon-heavy crowds, in a spectacularly augmented QCB Stadium, for only their second half-century over Queensland, and their biggest winning margin ever at 50-6. From the second-half combination between Teddy, Turbo and Cleary – the three best players in the game – to the extraordinary Yeo-To’o combo that kept out a late Gagai try, this was exactly the barnstorming win the Blues needed to steel themselves for Game 2 at Suncorp.
James Tedesco took the first tackle, and Tom Trbojevic the second, before Teddy took it again on play three, and Turbo on play four – a statement of purpose from the two best fullbacks in the game. Nathan Cleary had his first touch with the kick, and Kyle Feldt brought it back for his Origin debut in front of a raucous North Queensland crowd. Cameron Munster finished with the first Queensland kick, but didn’t quite get the distance he was looking for, as Teddy collected it, and Brian To’o got his first taste of Origin footy on the second tackle.
Cleary’s next kick was a subtle dab that Feldt contained in the face of a strong chase from Josh Ado-Carr, while David Fifita got his first offload away two tackles later. Munster’s second kick defied the Blues, but also bounced awkwardly for the Maroons, resulting in a messy scramble that ended with the Foxx securing it. Jarome Luai risked a bullet pass out to Latrell Mitchell early in the tackle count, so it was anticlimactic for the very small away crowd when Latrell’s subsequent offload was just a little too low for Tariq Sims to collect cleanly.
The Maroons now had the first augmented field position of the night, but the Blues survived. Munster went long a set later, but he underestimated just how hard this North Queensland surface was, as Ado-Carr waited patiently for it to tumble end-over-end across the dead ball line. New South Wales now had seven tackles to play with, losing momentum midway through the count, which induced Cleary to put in an early kick to Turbo. He didn’t find his man, though the result was just as good for the Blues, with Daly Cherry-Evans pinged for an escort.
This was the first penalty of the match, and Cleary took the two, slotting it through the posts from right in front. The Maroons contained every play on the restart, including a good read of a Tedesco dummy by Christian Welch, and the Blues were just as staunch a set later, tempting DCE to kick on the third tackle from his own thirty. To’o bumped off Welch early in the count, and the big Queensland prop was sent off the park for an HIA, bringing Moaeki Fotuaiaka on much earlier than expected while To’o was cleared for any more head attention.
Cameron Murray almost broke through the line a moment later, accelerating the game dramatically, but at the expense of Damien Cook, who was caught offside. Munster offloaded to DCE a few tackles later, and the Maroons got six again off a ruck infringement from Sims, although the roar of the crowd prevented Munster from hearing the call, as an extra Queensland set went begging. On the next New South Wales set, Latrell got on the outside of Xavier Coates, opening space for Cleary’s first really deft footwork up the middle of the park.
It was agonising, then, for the away crowd, when Teddy’s kick on the last went too far – until Feldt came in for a completely unnecessary tackle on Ado-Carr as the footy was going dead. The Blues now had their first really decent field position, and Turbo scored two tackles later, off a beautiful right sweep that slice through the Queensland defence like butter – a pair of wide balls from Cook and Cleary that initially looked to sweep through Turbo out to the right corner, only for the star fullback to take on Feldt for his sixth try in six Origin appearances.
Cleary added the sideline conversion, and the Blues had eight unanswered points, while the Maroons got their second restart on their next set off an error from Jake Trbojevic. Dane Gagai glimpsed space up the right edge, and replicated Munster’s offload to DCE, as Holmes tried to mirror the Blues’ sweep. The play came apart, To’o recovered the footy, and tensions flared between Cleary and Jai Arrow in backplay, as the second quarter got going, and Cook broke into space and fed out a wide ball that Munster tried to secure but knocked on instead.
This was actually fortuitous for the Blues, since if the footy had found its mark it would have probably falconed off Teddy’s head, rather than finding him on the chest. It was also the fastest acceleration of the game so far, condensing New South Wales into a second try, on the other side of the field, off another compressed sweep. This time the vision came from Luai, who created just enough space for Latrell to shift the footy across to To’o for his debut Origin four-pointer before Fotuaika came in for a late low tackle that got him put on report.
Cleary copped some friendly fire from Turbo’s elbow in backplay, and had blood streaming down the side of his face, as Latrell took the kick to make it fourteen on the board, while Luai celebrated his playmaking with a soaring bomb at the end of the restart. The Blues got a windfall when Kurt Capewell lost the footy on the next Maroons set, and accelerated once again, as Turbo drove the ball towards the posts, Cleary passed on the last to Sims, and Sims made up for his earlier error with a sublime offload through Gagai out to the left wing.
This was more a cut-out pass than a regular offload, thanks to how low Gagai had come in for the tackle. Even more incredibly, To’o caught it clean for a double on the wing, as news came back from the sheds that Welch had failed his HIA. Cleary returned to kicking duties, and the Blues were 20-0 after he booted it through from the sideline, blood still streaming from his right cheek. To’o was charged up on the restart, making massive metres after contact, and Cleary ended with a floating bomb that gave his men ample time to come in for defence.
The Maroons got a chance to reset the game with two successive six agains, off ruck errors from Cook and Sims, but it all came to nothing when Felise Kaufusi lost the footy into a tackle with Luai, who stripped it for good measure. Fifita came off a second later for an HIA, replaced by Jaydn Su’A, as Welch glumly watched on from the bench. Still, the Maroons got another shot when Latrell and Luai converged to prevent Gagai breaking into space up the right wing, leading to a marginal-illegal strip from Latrell that had Teddy shaking his head in disbelief.
Finally, Queensland got on the board on the next set, thanks to a sweeping trio of passes from Grant, DCE and Munster that asserted their command of the entire breadth of the park. Capewell ended up with the footy, squared off Turbo, shifted the ball to his right hand in anticipation of an offload out to the wing, but decided to go it alone, pulling back the second phase play, wrong-footing the Manly fullback, and coming to ground beneath Cleary, whose shirt was now maroon was blood, as the claret continue to pour down from his face.
So bad was Cleary’s gash that Gerard Sutton now sent him off the park to have it fixed, as Jack Wighton came on earlier than expected. The Blues felt Cleary’s absence immediately, as Latrell took the kickoff, and booted it out on the full, giving the home side an enhanced restart while the crowd went crazy in the stands. DCE invoked the breadth of the previous try with a soaring harbour bridge ball out to Feldt, the Maroons got six again off a Murray error, and Munster forced the first dropout of the night with a grubber To’o had to clean up in goal.
This was crisis point for the Blues – it was critical they stay strong here to avoid conceding the momentum back to the Maroons heading into the sheds. To’o steeled them with a heroic effort to avoid the dropout, and Latrell read Holmes perfectly, slamming into him to force a knock-on in possibly the most important defensive moment in this first stanza. There was now less than a minute on the clock, as New South Wales got six again, Latrell broke through the line, and the Maroons scrambled to hold up Ado-Carr, on the right edge, on the final tackle.
Back from the break, the Maroons had to score quickly to regain the narrative. They’d won sixteen matches when they were down at half time, but the biggest ever deficit was 18-6, in Game 1 2007. Fotuaika galvanised them with three big carries on the first set, so it was frustrating Harry Grant couldn’t finish with a convincing kick. After a swathe of Queensland injuries in the first half, Luai copped Coates’ knee in the back during the next contest for the high ball, producing a brief stoppage in play until he indicated that he was fine to continue.
This gave the Blues time to rest before the next Queensland assault, and Munster knew it, kicking for field position, and sending the footy from the forty all the way to Teddy at the twenty, but without the right angle or inflection for a genuine 40/20 contender. Haas tried to get an offload away midway through the next set, but flicked it into open space, forcing Cook into a second knock-on as he rushed in to prevent the Maroons getting a hand to it, only for Joe Ofahengaue to waste this opportunity with an unnecessary escort on Tedesco.
This was just as bad as Feldt’s escort in the first half, but Luai was just as foolish by taking issue with the referee, leading to a verbal warning and a near-penalty for backchat. Two tackles later, Grant and Su’A converged on Latrell for one of the hardest hits of the night, and this charged the Maroons into their biggest running set of the second half next time they had ball in hand. Even then, however, To’o was equal to DCE’s kick, bringing the ball back and setting up the Blues to show they could move just as fast and fluidly down the park.
We glimpsed more speed when Ado-Carr received the footy on the right side and made his way up the very edge of the park, poising the Blues to take all that speed and pivot to the other side of the field, where Turbo grubbered off the left foot to his fellow centre. Latrell seemed just as charged by the Su’A-Grant tackle as Queensland, pivoting away from Gagai and dashing away from two defenders to put the footy down, before Cleary cemented his return from the sheds, bandage on face, by converting to restore the Blues’ 20-point lead.
Feldt was put on report for another brainsnap – a late and high tackle on Murray in the buildup to the try – and the Blues moved cleanly and clinically through their restart. Murray headed off for an HIA, and Liam Martin joined the squad for his Origin debut, as Paul Green came down to the Maroons bench for crisis management. Cook offloaded to Haas on the next New South Wales set – a nice counterpoint to their failed second phase effort earlier – and the Blues tightened their defensive wall once again next time the Maroons took possession.
Ado-Carr was really getting into the spirit of the game, soaring gymnastically through the air to collect the next Munster kick, before cleaning up Coates when he bounced off Junior Paulo at the start of the following Queensland set. He got too eager on the next play, however, coming in for a marginally high shot on AJ Brimson, as Capewell, the lone tryscorer, tried to capitalise with a searching run across the end of the ruck. Still, the Blues stayed strong – right down to a good dash from Cleary to avoid being trapped for a dropout on the last tackle.
New South Wales hadn’t put the speed opened up by Ado-Carr behind them, though, since you could feel his acceleration percolating through the next enterprising play. Luai broke into space early in the tackle count, getting on the outside of Kaufusi before he fed it back to Latrell, who followed his try with a superb assist. At the very moment that Coates hit him low, Trell flipped it across to Turbo to score beneath the posts – a stunning vision of what two Origin centres playing like fullbacks can achieve when they pool their collective talents.
Cleary was always going to convert from this angle, so the Blues were now a stunning 32-6 in front of one of the most Maroon-heavy Origin crowds in years. New South Wales were now playing like Penrith and looked even more unassailable when a perfect Cleary kick ricocheted off Coates and into Latrell’s chest at the end of the restart. For a moment, it seemed like the Maroons might get lucky with a Haas offside, but it was deemed passive, leaving the ricocheted high ball open for Latrell to scoop it up and slam it down for a sublime double.
Cleary added the extras again, and the Blues got six again at the end of the next restart, with Ado-Carr searching his way around the right wing and looking possible for a try on the very first tackle. In the most dramatic field position intensification of the game, New South Wales got a crowding penalty from Joe Ofahengaue, and Daniel Saifiti scored a second later, collecting a short ball from Cook and smashing through Brimson, pivoting over Ofahengaue, and cantilevering the footy to ground before Tino Faasuamaleui could get beneath it.
He put it down beneath the crossbars, Cleary converted, and the Blues were only a converted try away from putting a half century on the Maroons. They glimpsed those six points on this third restart, when a no-look backhanded flick pass from Cleary almost put Tedesco through the line, before Turbo opted the take the Steeden over the sideline to give his men a brief respite. It seemed an age since Queensland had touched the football, and they didn’t do much with this next set either, with Coates coming apart under an oblique high ball from Munster.
Cleary and Tedesco got the combination right on the next set, and drew Turbo in for good measure, as the game’s three greatest players took New South Wales to fifty points. Cleary broke through the line out of dummy half and fed it across to Tedesco, who set his sights on the chalk, and then reconfigured as Holmes came in for the chase, flicking it across to Trbojevic to cross over untouched for an absolutely iconic Blues try – Turbo’s second Origin hat-trick. Cleary made it eight from eight and the Blues were a stunning fifty points to six.
This was only the second time that New South Wales had hit a half century in an Origin game, after their 56-16 win in Game 3 of the 2000 series, when the likes of Ryan Girdler, Matt Gidley and Andrew Johns stirred them to victory. Even six again couldn’t help the Maroons, whose next augmented set ended with Cleary stripping the footy clean from Grant, as Jake Trbojevic looked on impatiently from the bench. The next set was just as unfortunate, as Capewell sent the kick too long after Luai was judged not to have played at the footy on the final tackle.
Saifiti was pinged for a knock-on during the next New South Wales set, and the Blues wasted their Captain’s Challenge by trying to claim there had been interference from Queensland, but with less than seven minutes on the clock it hardly mattered. The rest of the game would be psychological – the Blues had to score more, and keep the Maroons out, to steel themselves for the second (and arguably more intimidating) Queensland home game at Suncorp, while the Maroons had to put enough points on the board to hold their heads high.
With five minutes on the clock, the Maroons had their last chance for a cascade of points, especially once they got six again, right on the New South Wales line, off a Cleary error. DCE chipped right on the last, Coates caught it on the full, and then offloaded to Gagai when the Blues contained him, for what seemed a certain try, only for Isaah Yeo to scramble across and join To’o to prevent one of the most iconic and prolific Queensland tryscorers from putting down four points here – the single most aggressive and impressive defensive play of the night.
Wighton started the next tackle count with less than two minutes on the clock, and the Blues prevented Queensland getting another point on the board – an incredible result, and reminiscent, in its own way, of the Maroons dynasty that dominated the Smith-Slater-Cronk era. They’ll be looking to recapture this momentum in the Suncorp cauldron, while this was a rude shock for Queensland after their 2020 result, meaning they’ll be anxious to rework the home ground advantage when they host New South Wales in Brisbane in three weeks.
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