ANZ Stadium has been derided as a soulless cavern, but the venue has rarely produced more noise or been soaked in more emotion than in the aftermath of the Blues’ epic 6-4 triumph, which snared the State of Origin crown for the first time since 2005.
For 70 minutes it appeared Queensland would force a decider, hoodwinking their jittery rivals after a supposedly injury-ravaged build-up to carry a four-point lead and keep the home side scoreless as one of the most anticipated clashes in Origin history entered the championship stages.
But, as has so often been the case for the dominant Maroons during the last eight series, the Blues found a way to win. Simply put, NSW did a Queensland – and the moving post-match scenes were unprecedented.
Plenty of niggle
Tensions bubbled over just inside the 10-minute mark, with Blues backrower Beau Scott unsurprisingly in the thick of the action. Fellow firebrand Greg Bird transgressed soon afterwards and Johnathan Thurston goaled for 2-0.
NSW skipper Paul Gallen wanted to take the two in the 19th minute, but Josh Reynolds rashly took a quick tap and the scoring chance came undone through a fumble.
The first half pace was a crawl compared to the frenetic series opener – but it was no less brutal or fiery. Intimidation and niggle was palpable on every play: forearms to the tackled player’s face; late shots on the kickers; frequent push-and-shoves. Penalties flowed for the home side, but another Thurston goal was ultimately the only other score of the first half.
Open attacking play was at a premium as spoiling tactics dictated terms. No player was keener to get involved than Justin Hodges, and the veteran Maroons centre made a rare clean break a minute before halftime. Hobbled halfback Daly Cherry-Evans almost grabbed dream grubber-and-chase try on the subsequent ruck, but Reynolds’ boot narrowly prevented the opening try: 4-0 Queensland at the break.
Hayne thwarts Thaiday
Maroons’ forward stalwart Sam Thaiday appeared certain to break the tryscoring impasse, throwing an audacious dummy and burrowing for the line … before the mercurial Jarryd Hayne, after a quiet opening stanza, knocked it from his grasp just as a double-figure lead beckoned. It proved the turning point.
Will Hopoate needed cajoling from legendary trainer Ronnie Palmer to stay on after suffering an arm injury, while it was Queensland’s right winger, the luckless Brent Tate, who was instead forced off with a leg injury, backrower Chris McQueen slotting in on the flank.
Finally, Hodkinson breaks through
Mistakes littered the lacklustre middle stages of the second half, and a wayward, unnecessary pass from David Taylor with 15 minutes remaining put the Maroons under immense pressure.
The Blues had five consecutive sets inside the opposition half, and after largely aimless, uninventive attack, weight of possession told and Trent Hodkinson dummied his way through for NSW’s first try in 118 minutes of football.
The Canterbury No.7, at hundreds to play Origin football at the start of 2014, further etched his name into Origin folklore by calmly potting the angled conversion to put the Blues in the lead for the first time.
Did Woods touch it?
A contentious moment destined to dominate the northern newspaper pages came from the kick-off, with NSW prop Aaron Woods appearing to touch the ball as it sailed over the dead-ball line before the referees awarded the Blues a penalty on halfway.
NSW’s ascent to Origin supremacy was delayed by several minutes when Thurston and Matt Gillett, who was superb throughout the contest, took exception to Reynolds’ combative run. A melee ensued and reignited several times before the home was awarded another penalty, Reynolds and Thurston on report for possible head-butting.
Hayne’s final act
Fittingly, it was Hayne that cleaned up a last-second Queensland counterattack and sprinted over the dead-ball line to end so many years of heartache and embrace the nearest clutch of ‘Blatchy’s Blues’ thousands-strong wigged diehards.
Hayne standing in triumph on the fence was just one of many post-match moments that will be frozen in time, set to take their place in the Blues’ cherished history alongside Steve Mortimer in ’85, a bloodied Ben Elias in ’92 and ‘Joey’ Johns’ rescue in ’05.
Grown men cry
A fist-pumping Laurie Daley making his way down the stairs towards the field, Hayne’s tearful interview with Johns, and Daley’s emotional mid-pitch embrace with his skipper Paul Gallen – named man-of-the-match – will live on as strongly as any of the many moments of ecstasy Queensland has created in the last eight seasons.
It was poignant, hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff – and, most importantly, it was history. The greatest side in Origin history has been vanquished; we may just have witnessed the early stages of the finest outfit to wear sky blue.
The hapless, enigmatic Taylor will unfortunately be pilloried for his telling error, destined never to don the jumper again. But the Blues’ try – the only four-pointer of the match – somehow felt like destiny; the ‘Coal Train’ just happened to be the fall guy for the inevitable.
Workhorse Gallen’s best-on-ground nod summed up the contest: there were heroes all over the park on both sides, with no out-and-out stars shining like Hayne and co. did in Origin I.
NSW has incredibly wrapped up the series inside two games, but if Origin history has taught us anything, it’s that there is no such thing as a dead-rubber. There is still plenty to play for in Brisbane in three weeks’ time.
But this night, and 2014, belongs to the Blues.