Queensland greats Paul Vautin and Johnathan Thurston were left “dumbfounded” following a late error that helped NSW win just its second State of Origin series in 13 years.
The Blues – who won 18-14 at ANZ Stadium on Sunday evening to take an unassailable 2-0 series lead – were on the ropes in the dying stages after centre James Roberts was sent to the sin bin for a 69th-minute professional foul on Queensland’s Gavin Cooper.
Trailing by just four points, with all the momentum and a knack of winning the tight ones, Queensland looked winners and were just 10 metres from the try-line and with tackles up its sleeve when No.7 Ben Hunt strangely opted for a grubber kick that was poor and went dead.
“Are you serious … the third tackle?,” Vautin said on the Nine Network.
And that would prove to be Queensland’s last serious chance to score, with the hosts desperately holding on to clinch their first Origin series win since 2014.
Maroons legend Johnathan Thurston, who retired from representative duties last year, said afterwards he was “a little bit dumbfounded by the way the Queenslanders played with 12 players on the field”.
“A centre going off for 10 minutes … I don’t think that they targeted that edge much,” he said.
Queensland captain Greg Inglis pulled no punches in his assessment, insisting his side did not play the way required at Origin level.
“I’m hurting badly,” he told Channel Nine.
“It was ours for the taking. We just didn’t do the little things, you know, get the ball dead three or four times in the second half when we had them on the ropes.
“We had space, but we just tried to do the fancy stuff and that’s not Origin.
“Origin’s about getting the little things done and grinding it out until the 80th minute.
“It hurts that much … I know that we could have had it, but we just shot ourselves in the foot.”
Queensland’s defeat means there is no chance for legendary fullback Billy Slater to get the fairytale farewell his representative career deserves in Game 3, to be held in Brisbane next month.
In stark contrast to Inglis, veteran Blues playmaker James Maloney was reduced to tears following the match.
Maloney was a member of the New South Wales sides that coughed up a 1-0 lead to lose the series in both 2013 and 2017 – two of only five Blues teams to do so in their history.
“I’ve been a here a few times and felt the hurt, so it makes it special,” Maloney, who had never won an Origin series before, told Nine.
“I’ll remember this one.”
Asked what he was thinking when the Blues were reduced to 12 men, Maloney said: “We said that we were going to have to face adversity at some point and how we reacted to that would determine the result.
“The boys just held strong.”
Fighting for survival following its 22-12 loss in Origin 1 at the MCG, Queensland got off to a flying start.
Valentine Holmes opened the scoring on 12 minutes and winger Dane Gagai got in on the act just seven minutes later, helping the Maroons open up a 10-0 lead.
Josh Addo-Carr showed good strength to respond in the corner in the 24th minute for the Blues, though, and it was Brad Fittler’s side who were in front when skipper Boyd Cordner was controversially awarded a penalty try.
That came after Hunt was deemed to have illegally taken out the Blues captain as he chased a Maloney grubber that was perfectly placed into the in-goal.
Remarkably, it was just the second time in Origin history and the first time in 37 years a penalty try had been awarded, with Maroons legend Mal Meninga the only other player to ‘score’ a penalty try at the level.
Latrell Mitchell extended the Blues’ lead to eight points soon after the break, but when Will Chambers crossed 12 minutes later, the scene was set for Queensland to produce one of its customary grandstand finishes.
The new-look Blues were able to vanquish some demons, though, holding on for a memorable series win in front of their adoring fans.