Goodbye Billy. And welcome back Daly. Queensland has provided one final highlight for Billy Slater, downing NSW 18-12 in State of Origin III in Brisbane to provide a fitting farewell and deny the Blues their first series whitewash in 18 years.
While it was an emotional send-off for stand-in skipper Slater in his 31st and final Origin, it marked a happy return for Maroons halfback Daly Cherry-Evans in front of a 51,214-strong crowd at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
The polarising playmaker finally won over the Maroons faithful with a masterful display in his first Origin in three years.
NSW looked like it would be a party pooper when it somehow snatched a 12-8 half-time lead despite having five-eighth James Maloney in the sin bin and little possession.
And man of the moment Slater had been denied a try not once but twice.
Yet the Maroons dug deep to recapture the never-say-die attitude that had propelled them to 11 series wins in the past 12 years to finally break their 2018 duck.
Slater was named not only man of the match but Wally Lewis Medallist for player of the series, despite missing the opening game with a hamstring injury.
“I love playing for Queensland. I have had the privilege to do it 31 times. To lead them out first (as captain), it was a special moment,” Slater said.
“But we needed that win tonight for Queensland’s future.”
Slater earned the Maroons captaincy for the first time in his final game after Greg Inglis broke his thumb.
With Inglis sidelined, Slater was the last man standing from Queensland’s 2006 team that sparked its decade of dominance.
It ended Slater’s 14-year Origin career, but it seems Cherry-Evans’ is about to take off.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters said Cherry-Evans had finally ended rumours that the Sea Eagles No.7 had fallen out with the Maroons.
Cherry-Evans had a hand in winger Valentine Holmes’ second try in the 51st minute before scoring himself seven minutes later, giving Queensland the winning lead.
“I could tell at the start of the week that he was going to put in a performance tonight that he can hang his hat on. I think it will put to bed now all those myths,” Walters said.
The early signs weren’t good for Slater when he was denied a fourth-minute try off a Cherry-Evans kick, with the video referee ruling a knock on.
And in the 31st minute, Slater was obstructed by Maloney trying to reel in a Cameron Munster grubber.
Maloney was sin binned, but it was the Blues who struck next.
Remarkably NSW endured six straight sets by Queensland as it was forced to kick goal-line drop-out after drop-out before sinking the slipper into the hosts.
With Queensland enjoying 70 per cent possession, NSW defied being a man down by scoring twice in three minutes through Tom Trbojevic (37th minute) and James Tedesco (40th).
“I feel pretty awful but that’s what you expect. They were pretty brave with what against them,” NSW coach Brad Fittler said.
“I was really proud of them, (but) to win 3-0 you have to do some special things, have to overcome adversity.”