A Dane Gagai double and never-say-die spirit helped Queensland come from behind to claim a bruising 18-14 win over New South Wales in Brisbane on Wednesday night.
The State of Origin series opener at Suncorp Stadium provided all of the expected thrills and spills in front of 52,191 parochial fans, but it was the belief within the new-look Maroons squad that proved the difference in overturning an 8-0 half-time deficit.
Much has been made of Queensland coach Kevin Walters turning to mind coach Bradley Charles Stubbs for guidance and his ‘Expect to Win’ philosophy.
But the much-hyped ‘coach whisperer’ will have earned every cent in the minds of Maroons fans as the home side recovered from bombing three tries in the first half to successfully pile pressure on the Blues and force them to crack.
It was a win for the power of positive thinking when – despite dominating play, including having two tries disallowed – somehow the Maroons trailed 8-0 at the break.
Playing without the experience, spark and guile of retired superstars Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis, the Maroons could have folded but they lifted when it mattered most.
Not that the Blues caved completely – even when they were reduced to 12 men in the 58th minute after Latrell Mitchell was sin-binned for a professional foul.
A late converted try to Jake Trbojevic kept the home side’s celebrations on hold for a nervy five-minute period in which the match was alive until the final play.
But the Maroons will be buoyed by the fact it has history on its side in its bid to reclaim the Origin shield.
Heading to Game 2 in Perth on June 23, Queensland will know the victor in the series opener has won 27 of the past 37 series, including eight of the past 10.
Maroons skipper Daly Cherry-Evans summed up the mindset: “We had to stay positive. It could have been 18-8 at half-time, but things didn’t go our way. Our defence probably won it for us.”
Two-try matchwinner Dane Gagai said faith in the system and themselves helped find the inspiration to win.
“Like I always say, it came off the back of hard work and effort from the boys,” Gagai said.
Walters echoed the sentiment in his post-match interview.
“The belief in the side, that’s what won it,” he said.
“It’s a young side. We had three on debut (David Fifita, Joe Ofahengaue, Moses Mbye).
“We will take the win but there is a lot more left in this Queensland team and the ‘other team’.”
That belief was channelled all the way from Paris, where a rain delay allowed Ash Barty to watch her league heroes pull through before her French Open quarter-final.
— Ash Barty (@ashbar96) June 5, 2019
Contrast that with NSW coach Brad Fittler, who was left to lament a lack of early confidence.
“We started to play a bit late, which is a bit of shame,” Fittler said.
“There’s enough skill in the team and if we had more trust we could have played a bit more footy earlier instead of when the game was actually on the line and we were behind.”
Nevertheless, Walters is the first to concede that the series is far from over, despite the mental edge and Stubbs’ winning mentality.
“His (Stubbs) involvement has been great, but we have not achieved anything yet,” he said.
“We will enjoy this, but we are aware we have some work to do.”