New South Wales’ stunning last-gasp State of Origin series win has highlighted that representative rugby league is still very much alive, but that over-zealous refereeing can endanger the spectacle.
The Blues won back-to-back series for the first time since 2005 after James Tedesco crossed for one of the great Origin tries, with just 32 seconds left on the clock.
The critical moment in the game three decider gave NSW a 26-20 win at ANZ Stadium and put to bed any notion that the Blues are suspect when the pressure is on.
But while the breaking of the 20-20 deadlock made for a brilliant end to an engrossing series, the first half was notable more for the actions of the referees.
Gerard Sutton and Ashley Klein blew 12 first-half penalties, prompting criticism from the sidelines about their influence on the game.
The pair were panned by both sides, however only blew their whistle twice in the second half.
“The referees are interfering with the game too much tonight,” former Blues coach Phil Gould said on the Nine Network coverage.
Former Maroons coach Paul Vautin agreed, adding: “They’re going to ruin the game if they keep it up.”
The stop-start game favoured the Maroons. But once the game was allowed to flow, the likes of James Tedesco and Damien Cook put their stamp on the contest.
NSW appeared headed for a comfortable finish when Tedesco and Cook broke an 8-8 deadlock with tries in the space of nine minutes.
NSW led 20-8 with 20 minutes remaining but it looked like a decider would once again go to script for the Maroons as they charged back into the contest with tries to Josh McGuire and Josh Papalii to even the score at 20-20.
But just when the game looked headed for golden point, the much-maligned Mitchell Pearce came to the fore, while Tedesco sealed his place in Blues’ folklore, and the Wally Lewis Medal.
In one of the most dramatic finishes in Origin history, Pearce’s looping cutout pass for Tom Trbojevic resulted in Blake Ferguson tiptoeing down the sideline, before finding Tedesco inside for the matchwinner.
Pearce later paid tribute to Nathan Cleary, after being ruled out for game three due to an ankle injury that opened the door for his return.
Asked if the victory would erase the memories of his run of eight Origin losses, Pearce said: “I don’t know about that, my Origin career has been up and down.
“But it’s about this game tonight. It’s an unreal feeling.”
Tedesco was immense, crossing for two tries, running for 222 metres. He also made four line breaks and broke 10 tackles.
With the Maroons farewelling the likes of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater in recent years, for the first time in a long time, the Blues can lay claim to having the world’s best player.
Unlike game two, the Maroons’ forwards were not overawed and held their own against the Blues.
But after a Ferguson sideline bust, Tedesco made the moment his own, crashing over the line to send the 82,565 fans into raptures with 32 seconds left on the clock.
In the end, Tedesco broke countless Maroons hearts.
“It was a pretty good feeling to score that try,” Tedesco said.
It was pretty special to win the series last year but, to win it again, is magic.’’
The dramatic finish ended a run of seven straight defeats in Origin deciders for the Blues, dating back to the start of the Maroons’ dynasty in 2006.
Queensland’s Cameron Munster had a stellar game, running 162 metres, including a line break and three tackle busts.
“It was pretty disappointing the way we finished. To be honest, I thought we had them,” Munster said.
“We were just a bit lazy there for one second and they can really hurt you, but someone has to win and someone has to lose.”