Shannon Meyer reviews Queensland’s unlikely series win in front of a packed Lang Park.
|3rd||Try Valentine Holmes (QLD)||Queensland 4-0|
|5th||Goal Valentine Holmes (QLD)||Queensland 6-0|
|8th||Try James Tedesco (NSW)||Queensland 6-4|
|9th||Goal Nathan Cleary (NSW)||Scores tied 6-6|
|36th||Try Edrick Lee (QLD)||Queensland 10-6|
|38th||Goal Valentine Holmes (QLD)||Queensland 12-6|
|57th||Goal Valentine Holmes (QLD)||Queensland 14-6|
|62nd||Try Harry Grant (QLD)||Queensland 18-6|
|63rd||Goal Valentine Holmes (QLD)||Queensland 20-6|
|65th||Try Daniel Tupou (NSW)||Queensland 20-10|
|66th||Goal Nathan Cleary (NSW)||Queensland 20-12|
|72nd||Goal Nathan Cleary (NSW)||Queensland 20-14|
Playing in front of the least-socially distanced gathering since a pre-election Trump rally, the roar of the Lang Park crowd when Queensland ran onto the field almost made one forget how awful 2020 has been. The final game of rugby league in Australia for the year was ready to rumble.
The opening set told a story: Queensland threw the ball on the second tackle, hopefully a sign of a bit more imagination this game with Cameron Munster. NSW’s defense was good though, and Queensland looked loose up the middle already.
An early penalty to Queensland (in the third minute) gave them a helping hand out of their half, and by the end of the next set they were in front. Queensland ran on the last tackle: Munster headed to the blind side, and found Corey Allen lurking at the back, who then fired the ball to Valentine Holmes with a little bit of space on the wing; he pulled off a perfect dive to squeeze the ball down in the corner. He converted his own try from the sideline: the lead 6-0 to Queensland.
With the partisan crowd finding their voice, the Maroons received another gift up field with their second penalty of the game. Queensland pressured the line but a poor fifth tackle option followed immediately by a penalty let NSW off the hook. But the Maroons’ attack looked much better than game two: no surprise with more Munster and less Ben Hunt.
The Blues’ first penalty led to decent territory and their first points. A small chip bomb from Nathan Cleary was dropped under pressure by new Queensland fullback Corey Allan, the ball spilling to Daly Cherry-Evans who would have been penalised for picking it up from an offside position, which left James Tedesco with ‘candy from a baby’ moment as he merely placed the ball in the in goal for the try. Cleary converted to even things up 6-6 after nine minutes.
Doubling down on conceding their first try, Holmes kicked the ball over the dead ball line from the kick off, handing NSW a massive advantage. This time they were unsuccessful, but Queensland looked shaky under the kicks, which no doubt Cleary would try and expose more of.
Queensland received six more tackles from a set restart after a barnstorming set down field, then were rewarded once more just metres from the NSW line with a second set restart. The extra tackles didn’t help them this time thanks to great NSW goal line defense, nor did a second first tackle penalty with NSW deep in their own territory. Last time that happened NSW scored.
At this point the game seemed a little over-officiated. Hopefully that would ease up as the game wore on.
The big moment of the game came in the 20th minute when Tedesco, who was bringing back the ball from an early Munster kick with the usual amount of gusto, slipped as he approached the Queensland defence; sadly, his head came in contact with possibly the largest set of legs on the ground – Josh Papalii. The spilled ball was less of a worry than the hard truth that a very wobbly Tedesco was unlikely to return to the field, based on Munster’s absence in game two. NSW survived the subsequent Queensland attack, but could they win the decider with one of their best out?
For the record Clint Gutherson replaced Tedesco at fullback. Jai Arrow’s sportsmanship directly after the incident was ordinary at best. Origin is Origin, but there has to be a line.
Queensland at this stage had enough ball and territory to strike, but their last play options were becoming increasingly poor.
Allan continued an off night with the ball with a midfield knock on, but the Maroons weren’t punished as NSW dropped the ball on the first pass from the scrum. The errors were coming thick and fast at this stage as Queensland wasted more great territory with an error 10 metres from the NSW line.
As if Queensland had forgotten about Cleary’s great kicking game from game two, they looked asleep as a he smashed a perfect 40-20 kick, and now had great territory and ball to punish Queensland’s waste at the other end.
NSW got a set restart penalty in attack, but it was wasted when Cody Walker – in promising attack mode – knocked the ball on under pressure. A penalty to Queensland on the first tackle compounding the error. The Maroons had a golden chance to add more points when they got a fresh set of six deep in NSW territory from a Cleary knock down, but threw it away on the first tackle.
It had now been 25 minutes without points, and Queensland should have arguably been in front with their opportunities.
Of course, not long after saying that, Queensland did score some points. A crossfield kick/pass went across field to Brenko Lee from the boot of Munster, who bobbled the ball backwards (according to match officials), and then found Edrick Lee who cut infield for a try on his Origin debut. This was after some outstanding work from Munster the previous tackle with a blindside chip and chase, then another lightning kick infield found Queensland near the line on the last tackle. The conversion gave Queensland a 12-6 lead just before half time.
Queensland could possibly have been further in front given their chances, but NSW did well in defence when tested. The game was poised for great finale.
Plenty of action to start the second half, with a few half chances for Queensland coming on the back of some great Harry Grant work: the Wests Tigers hooker adding some real missing spark for the Queenslanders in his stint so far. A Munster steal was also wasted with an errant pass to the left.
Five second half minutes gone, and Queensland had thrown away at least two good chances. They got away with scoring no points when on top in the first half, but would Queensland be punished in the second half? Without Tedesco, and with Walker nowhere near as good as game two, NSW didn’t look quite as sharp.
A penalty in the 50th minute was quite the gift for Queensland, with debate in the commentary on whether that hit was any worse than a dozen previous. Although Gus Gould making the claim leaves a little gap for impartialness. Whatever the merits, it allowed Queensland to keep pressure on the Blues with a repeat set. Followed by a set restart, and a subsequent NSW knock on in defence kept them in tackling mode, which up to then had been impressively solid given the lack of ball they had. An accidental offside actually provided some relief as Queensland took the two points, and extended their lead to eight.
For all their ball in the previous 10 minutes, Queensland had extended the lead by only two points. A good result really for NSW and testimony to their efforts in defence.
A mistake in attack on their own 30 metre line left NSW under attack yet again from the Maroons. This time they were punished as the new excitement machine Grant scurried through the NSW defence from five metres out and his outstretched arm found just enough of the white line to score after yet another Queensland offload close to the line from Christian Welch. The conversion made it 20-6 with just under 20 minutes remaining.
A short kick-off led to consecutive penalties for NSW, and some rare second half time in Queensland’s 20 metre zone. It subsequently led to some NSW points as the Blues headed left through Gutherson with Daniel Tupou the final recipient who did it easy in the left corner. Cleary made the sideline conversion look easy too, and the gap was eight points with 15 minutes to go. Importantly, NSW scored from their first real attempt with decent ball and territory in the second half.
Queensland threw away a golden opportunity to seal the game and series in the 70th minute, when Holmes dropped a fine Allan offload with the line open. Only time will tell if they would be punished.
Not long after NSW closed the gap to just a converted try, as the Blues got a penalty in easy Cleary range, and the stage was set for a great finale to the rugby league season. Seven minutes to go and Queensland up by six points.
With tension building, and the Blues looking on top, Cleary dropped the ball in attack on the Queensland 40 metre line, giving the Maroons some relief, and good position for a field goal or better to seal the series.
Sadly, early in the next set Walker was knocked out by his own teammate, lying face down on the field after an attempted tackle. NSW would be without one of their potential game breakers for the last five minutes.
With three minutes remaining, NSW attacked down the right, and an unlikely in-field kick from Isiah Yeo found a flying Josh Addo-Carr, who kicked ahead again, and with the line open and a try begging, Allan interfered with the NSW winger’s run and bundled him over. After deliberation a penalty try couldn’t be awarded, but Allan was sent to the sin bin for the remainder of the game for the professional foul. NSW had one extra man and was on the attack.
NSW attacked the Queensland line with all their might in those final minutes. Getting a set restart, then a repeat set from a smart grubber. With a minute to go, and the series on the line, NSW had one more crack at the Queensland line.
The Blues attacked Queensland for that last minute, and looked like they may well produce the match-levelling moment, but the moment was lost with a few seconds to go when Junior Paulo appeared to knock on. Jake Friend picked the ball up and ran the ball dead to seal an very unlikely series win.
However, it wasn’t all over yet. As if the last minutes hadn’t produced enough tension, NSW Captain’s Challenged that knock on call, and after a minute of video review had actually won the challenge. But in an absurd moment of officiating, it didn’t matter at all, as the game had already reached the 80 minutes.
After the dust settled, Queensland were the team to celebrate as they pulled off the most unlikely Origin series win since 1995. Another great chapter in the Origin storybook for the Maroons, and another feather in the cap of coach Wayne Bennett.
They possibly should have won by more, but were wasteful in attack, as much as NSW were defiant in defence and did extremely well to get within six points, and have the chance to steal the match late.
Man of the Series went to Munster, which was some achievement given how little he played in game two. He wouldn’t be the first Melbourne Storm player to win the Wally Lewis medal with limited minutes. Munster was the difference between Queensland’s performance in games two and three.
After being described as one of the worst teams ever assembled by Queensland, they will take a lot of pleasure in the 2-1 series win. Looking through the Maroons side, you could argue very few of their team would make a NSW side, and there were quite a number of players in the side who have played in the Queensland/NSW Cup in the past two seasons. A player like Kurt Capewell typifies this Queensland team; unwanted at the Sharks, and injured for most of this season with Penrith, he played put of position and did well in game one, played through injury in game two, and was good again for Queensland tonight.
Much as Queensland wondered what they might have achieved with Cameron Munster in game two, NSW will wonder what having James Tedesco on the field would have done to their chances. As it was NSW got within six points of the Maroons despite having far less ball, but their attack was certainly not as sharp as game two, and no doubt Tedesco would have made the difference.
Harry Grant has been a name discussed a lot in 2020, and there was plenty of buzz around the hooker when he was loaned to the Wests Tigers. He lived up to most of that hype during the 2020 NRL season, but his performance tonight for Queensland will have Maroons fans happy at the prospect of him being a long-term game winner at Origin level. And may have Melbourne Storm getting ready to push their club captain out the door. Grant was electric, and gave Queensland something they certainly missed in game two, and possibly all series, without Kalyn Ponga.
Queensland Maroons: 5. Corey Allan 19. Edrick Lee 21. Brenko Lee 4. Dane Gagai 1. Valentine Holmes 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Christian Welch 9. Jake Friend 10. Josh Papalii 11. Felise Kaufusi 3. Kurt Capewell 13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Interchange 12. Jaydn Su’A 14. Harry Grant 15. Lindsay Collins 16. Jai Arrow.
New South Wales Blues: 1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Clint Gutherson 4. Jack Wighton 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cody Walker 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Damien Cook 10. Payne Haas 11. Angus Crichton 12. Tyson Frizzel 13. Jake Trbojevic. Interchange 14. Dale Finucane 15. Junior Paulo 16. Nathan Brown 17. Isaah Yeo.