Queensland 18 NSW 12
Queensland won, maybe NSW won a few more people over too. If a state hadn’t truly been swept up in Brad Fittler’s Blues revolution yet, how can you not completely fall for a bunch of State of Origin rookies who play like this?
They don’t draw pictures in the record books, but this game deserved a few illustrations.
Billy Slater leads celebrations after Daly Cherry-Evans’ match-winning try.
The 2018 chapter will show Queensland avoided their first series whitewash in almost 18 years, deservedly beating the Blues 18-12 at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night in a series they had already lost. They sent Billy Slater off a winner. Daly Cherry-Evans won some cynics over too.
That didn’t tell half the story.
Statistics have never been so lopsided. A team has surely never spent so much time on their own tryline in one half. Been forced to make so many more tackles than their opposition.
And yet they were only administered last rites in what was anything but a dead rubber at the final whistle.
Blue streak: Tom Trbojevic (left) celebrates a runaway try for NSW.
NSW might have already wrapped up the series in Melbourne and Sydney, but Fittler’s first foray into Brisbane – and a loss – said just as much about what he’s done for NSW in Origin than anything else.
In the end, the gas ran empty and the Blues lifted the Origin spoils in front of a crowd which emptied far quicker. Fittler won't really care.
This was supposed to be a chance for Fittler's free-wheeling Blues to party like it was 2000, yet it seemed someone had tossed the coach's soothing yoga background track and turned the tables over to an uninvited DJ.
One by one a cavalcade of Maroons captains waltzed into the middle of Suncorp Stadium, each greeted with a roar of approval. This was Queensland's only chance to host Origin this year. It was their party. And the Blues be damned for trying to wreck it.
In the bin: James Maloney gets 10 minutes of enforced rest after a controversial professional foul.
Everything that could have gone wrong this series seemingly has for Kevin Walters.
But forget the Smith bombshell, dodgy referee decisions in game one, why Ben Hunt and Will Chambers kicked like they did at ANZ Stadium with the game on the line, the biggest mystery of the series is how the hell Queensland trailed at half-time in game three?
NSW had a paltry 36 per cent possession. Made almost 100 more tackles. Parked themselves on their own line for six successive sets. Played virtually the final 10 minutes of the first half with 12 men after James Maloney's sin bin. And still led. How?
After Valentine Holmes had sprinted almost the length-of-the-field having grabbed an intercept from a wayward James Tedesco pass, the Maroons camped in NSW's half.
Superman: Valentine Holmes finishes spectacularly to tie it up at 12-12.
They prodded, poked and pushed. The Blues, somehow, didn't bend until Maloney escorted Slater off the ball chasing Cameron Munster's kick. Holmes potted the penalty to extend Queensland's lead to eight.
But it was only the start of the most unlikely of revivals. Tom Trbojevic mugged Munster, latching onto a long ball and racing away for his own 90-metre intercept try.
Then the big blow. The outstanding Damien Cook sending Tedesco over 10 seconds before the break. Queensland players briefly bickered with each other. Fittler jubilantly punched the air in his coaching box.
NSWRL chairman George Peponis joked a couple of weeks ago Fittler has always been kissed on the proverbial all his life, but the half-time lead was just as much fortitude as it was fluke.
Steamroller: James Tedesco runs over the top of Queensland captain Billy Slater.
The Maroons' response in the second half came after Tariq Sims, NSW's 13th Origin debutant this series, briefly lost his head when he needed to keep it.
Having taken umbrage to Dragons teammate Ben Hunt's lingering tackle, Sims managed to tackle the Maroons utility himself while his side was in possession. Holmes scored his second try of the night from the next set.
It wasn't long until Queensland had the lead again. Cherry-Evans' name was greeted with a smattering of boos during the introductions, his try was greeted with the exact opposite mid-way through the second.
It was at the instigation of Munster, who danced his way through and combined with Gavin Cooper for Cherry-Evans to score.
Reason to smile: Daly Cherry-Evans (right) was booed by some at the start but the crowd changed its tune.
The most polarising figure in recent Maroons history had the last laugh on the night.
Fittler had the last laugh for the year.
Queensland 18 (Valentine Holmes 2, Daly Cherry-Evans tries; Holmes 2 goals) defeated NSW 12 (Tom Trbojevic, James Tedesco tries; Nathan Cleary 2 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: Gerard Sutton, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 51,214.
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