A slow-starting game with no shortage of penalties has turned into one of the great State of Origin thrillers, with NSW claiming a remarkable last-minute 26-20 victory over Queensland. After one of the most eventful deciders in Origin history, we break down the key moments that defined a game that will be spoken about for years to come.
As Blues halfback Mitchell Pearce quipped to Andrew Johns after full-time: “That was a crazy game of footy Joey”.
Norman kicking game gets maroons going
Maroons five-eighth Corey Norman had a number of options 15 metres out from the Blues’ line but opted for a medium-height kick in the hope of forcing a repeat set. Note that Pearce put a great deal of pressure on Norman. Daly Cherry-Evans and Joe Ofahengaue’s exuberant and solid defence ensured Queensland earned a repeat set and it proved to be pivotal when they crossed about 60 seconds later through Felise Kaufusi in the 14th minute. Seeing space in behind the defensive line – and fullback James Tedesco closer to the sticks – Norman’s pinpoint kick was scooped up by Kaufusi. Even if Queensland didn’t dot the ball down, it would have resulted in a third consecutive set to pin NSW once again in their own half.
Tedesco break lifts blues
Tedesco’s ability to break a tackle is almost unrivalled in the game and the 26-year-old delivered with his side gasping for oxygen. While his barnstorming run down the left wing did not make a dent on the scoreboard, it gave the Blues a huge lift when they desperately needed to get out of their own end. Queensland conceded a couple of penalties, which let the Blues compose themselves. Damien Cook’s look-left-pass-right decoy was clever. Paul Vaughan was able to generate momentum when he received the ball four metres out. Sheer determination got Vaughan over the line and credit has to go to the big man for planting the ball down despite the best efforts of three Maroons defenders.
Morgan concussion throws spanner in works
In a major stroke of bad luck for the Maroons in the 48th minute, Josh McGuire’s left elbow met the head of teammate Michael Morgan, who appeared to be concussed after he crashed into the turf. It was significant for the fact he’d had a great game up until then and his exit forced a reshuffle with David Fifita coming off the pine. Losing first-choice backs is always far from ideal and with scores even at 8-8, it came at a terrible time for the visitors. Necessary concussion protocols ensured he came from the field and took no further part in the match.
Tedesco gets blues in front
A split-second decision by Daly Cherry-Evans to come off the line in defence meant he wasn’t in sync with the man on his outside, centre Will Chambers. Tedesco, having received a perfect pass out in front from Pearce, ran a diagonal line. Cherry-Evans had to get on his bike but it became pretty obvious pretty quickly Tedesco was always going to go to the line himself. He was in one of those real “get out of my way” moods and it lifted the Blues for their second four-pointer of the evening.
Cook pulls something out of nothing
If there’s anyone in the game who can squeeze through a gap either side of the ruck, it’s Cook. Like he has done so often for the Bunnies, Cook picked his moment from 42 metres out to make a brilliant line break in the 59th minute en route to a fabulous try. The hooker’s left-step, right-step, left-step combo bamboozled fullback Cameron Munster, who couldn’t do a whole lot in the end. At top speed, Cook reached 30km/h while sprinting for the line.
Maloney kick charged down as Maroons score
On the fifth tackle with just over four minutes remaining, Ethan Lowe came up with a monster play to charge down a James Maloney kick and come up with the ball. Interestingly, Maloney was attempting a midfield bomb rather than playing a territory game with the clock ticking down. Lowe marched downfield before Queensland shifted the ball left. A couple of hit-ups followed before Cherry-Evans put Josh Papalii through a beautiful hole to make it 20-18 with a kick to come. Had Maloney been able to thump his kick downfield, it’s unlikely the Maroons would have been able to score from that set. It almost proved costly for the Blues.
Lowe nails conversion to make it 20-20
After orchestrating the chargedown, Lowe stepped up in front of a vociferous crowd to boot tricky a conversion he would expect to kick more times than not. Nonetheless, was a pressure moment and the 28-year-old nailed it. The game looked set for extra-time before this…
Tedesco magic seals deal
With 45 seconds remaining and 70 metres from Queensland’s tryline, the Blues shifted the ball right. Pearce, chancing his arm, threw a cut-out pass to Tom Trbojevic, who got a ball away to winger Blake Ferguson. With speed to burn, Ferguson flirted with the sideline before passing to Tedesco. Remaining calm, Tedesco pinned the ears back and went for the right corner. Many will forget in years to come Pearce was right there unmarked on the inside. What a yarn that would have been. Instead, with no shortage of self-belief, Tedesco backed himself and slammed the ball down with 30 seconds on the clock.
In the words of Ray Warren commentating on Mark Coyne’s try in a 1994 Origin thriller: “That’s not a try, that’s a miracle.”
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald
Audio/Video Journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald