A strong second half and perhaps a little help from the officials saw New South Wales beat Queensland 22-12 in State of Origin I at the MCG on Wednesday evening.
A huge crowd of 87,122 piled into the famous venue and watched on as the Blues – inspired by man of the match James Tedesco – scored the last 14 points of the match to take a 1-0 series lead.
Brad Fittler’s new-look side had all the answers against the Maroons, who desperately missed retired trio Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk and the injured Billy Slater, and, as a result, lacked cutting edge in attack.
New South Wales sealed its victory with a controversial 70th-minute try to winger Josh Addo-Carr, courtesy of what appeared to be a forward pass from James Maloney.
The officials and touch judges were perhaps swept up in what was a dazzling move, sparked by a surging Tedesco run out of dummy half and a Blues overlap but the decision – or lack of one – ended Queensland’s hopes of producing a fightback of its own.
— NRL (@NRL) June 6, 2018
“Jimmy Maloney, once again, might have been a little bit forward, but we’ll let that one go,” former New South Wales captain Paul Gallen said on the Nine Network.
Despite the widespread fears of a stop-start match due to the deluge of penalties given in NRL matches this year, just five were spotted in a free-flowing match, but Queensland was left to rue a lopsided missed-tackle count of 42 to 18.
The Maroons still led 12-8 early in the second half but unanswered tries to Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic and Addo-Carr finished the contest.
The Blues will win Origin for just the second time in 13 years if they can win Game II at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on June 24.
Cagey start highlighted by stunning Holmes try
A typically gritty beginning to an Origin clash was broken in the 22nd minute when Damien Cook, one of 11 Blues debutants, sprinted out of dummy half and beat two Queensland defenders.
Cook then found Maloney, and he picked out Tedesco for the game’s first try.
Maloney, who had opened the scoring with an 18th-minute penalty, added the extras for an 8-0 lead, but he was to turn provider for the Maroons just minutes later when his long pass out wide was picked off by Queensland winger Valentine Holmes.
Holmes sprinted more than 90 metres to score under the posts, bringing a pro-Queensland crowd to life and reducing New South Wales’ lead to two at the break.
Queensland, inspired by a terrific showing from new captain Greg Inglis, then hit the front just three minutes after play resumed as last year’s Wally Lewis Medallist, Dane Gagai, grounded a terrific Ben Hunt kick.
But just when Maroons fans were dreaming of what would have been a truly famous victory, the Blues hit. And they hit hard.
A four-minute surge ended with Mitchell and Trbojevic scoring tries and, perhaps most impressively, New South Wales withstood a barrage of attacks in the aftermath.
That stoic defence eventually paid dividends, too, as Addo-Carr crossed in controversial circumstances to start the party.
New South Wales coach Fittler hailed his players for a win dripping with “character”.
“I was unbelievably proud of them,” he told Nine.
“They spent the whole [second] half coming off their own line … they showed a lot of character tonight.”
Gallen said Tedesco was “outstanding” and a deserving winner of the man of the match award.
“He had a great game,” he added.
“Just his footwork around the ruck of those tired forwards … he made two or three line breaks, ran more metres than everyone else, was safe under the high ball. He played a really good game.”
Queensland coach Kevin Walters felt his team lacked consistency through the match.
“We could have been a little bit better in a few areas,” he told Nine.
“I thought New South Wales were really good, to be honest. Their ball control was really good … in the end they were the better team and deserved to win.
“We weren’t quite as good as we wanted to be … just not consistent enough for the full 80 minutes.”