Queensland has emerged victorious in the opening match of this year’s State of Origin series. The Maroons defeated New South Wales 26-18 in a game characterized by a great deal of stop-start play and a greasy field, punctuated by the shrill sound of referee Ashley Klein‘s whistle. The result is somewhat surprising, given how much went against the Maroons during the match.
The Blues dominated possession and territory but lacked the precision and temperament required to take the win. There will undoubtedly be many questions about why the team failed to close out the game when it was there for the taking. One potential answer may be that Nicho Hynes did not make it onto the field until the 68th minute mark.
The Maroons showed their trademark bravery throughout the game despite losing Tom Gilbert early due to a shoulder injury, David Fifita for a period while undergoing a head injury assessment, and Tom Flegler to the sin bin for the final 10 minutes. They kept turning up defensively all over the park, with Reuben Cotter impressively racking up 48 tackles. Patrick Carrigan and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui were also standout performers in the middle.
NSW never looked like winners, even when they were ahead on the scoreboard at various stages late in the match. Winning was not to be, as the Maroons‘ desperation and lack of NSW polish determined the final result. The Maroons emerged victorious through tries to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Cameron Munster, even while reduced to 12 men.
The Maroons were also smart, much like last year’s series, with the Blues’ attack being repeatedly stifled each time it shifted wide. The Maroons‘ outside backs raced in and suffocated NSW halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai. In the first half, the team looked like they hadn’t trained, blowing numerous chances on the Maroons line.
As expected, Cleary repeatedly kicked to rookie fullback Reece Walsh, with none of the attempts proving successful. Despite Walsh appearing nervous early on, he handled the pressure with youthful aplomb.
Queensland had little ball and territory, but when they did, they made the most of it, scoring through Tabuai-Fidow and Selwyn Cobbo thanks to two NSW penalties. When it was the Blues’ turn to attack, they seemed disjointed and panicked. When they did manage to cross the line, Murray Taulagi held them up over the line twice.
The only time the Blues looked like scoring was when they were playing like Penrith. Their first try came from a signature play from the defending premiers, with Cleary executing a no-look pass to Luai, who then delivered the ball to back-rower Liam Martin. This effort kept the Blues alive in what was otherwise a tough game for them.
Despite the pre-match talk of aggression, any such confrontations failed to materialize. A couple of early skirmishes between Hudson Young of NSW and Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Gilbert of Queensland were the only noteworthy incidents in the first half, with some enthusiastic headlocks being the extent of the melees in the second half.
The focus will now shift to game two, to be held at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on June 21. NSW will need to rethink their tactics if they are to overcome their poor record in Brisbane under coach Brad Fittler, having won only once in five matches there. Queensland, meanwhile, can revel in their victory and take inspiration from the advice plastered across the walls of their dressing room: “NEVER GIVE UP”. If they win in Brisbane, they will have much to brag about.