Almanac Rugby League – State of Origin III: Back-to-back Blues




Now that is what you call an Origin game! Fast and furious, grit and flair, a wildly swinging pendulum of momentum, and the result in doubt until the very last play in normal time. What more could you ask for? And, in the process, further evidence to support the theory that there is a fine line between winning and losing.


Three specific incidents decided this match won by NSW 26-20. The first occurred late in the first half. With Queensland in control and leading 8-2, James Tedesco fielded the ball deep in his own half. His scything run across and then down the field forced the Maroons to concede two quick penalties which shifted the momentum and led to Paul Vaughan’s try to level things up at the break. Daly Cherry-Evans attempted a field goal on the stroke of halftime but missed to the right. The scoreline flattered NSW at that point as the Maroons displayed a far more committed effort than they did in Perth in Game 2, especially in the forwards.


The second incident came after 11 minutes of the second half. Again, the Maroons were having the better of play when Kaufusi conceded a silly penalty on the fifth tackle (a real coach killer) near the halfway line. In the very next set, good ball movement to the left allowed Tedesco (again!) to take advantage of an overlap and a stretched defensive line to power over for a 14-8 lead. (We’ll come to the third play in a moment.) Tedesco’s try lifted the Blues as they launched waves of attack in the ensuing ten minutes. Damien Cook at dummy half had bided his time all night but when he spotted a gap behind the defensive ruck, he exploited his speed and evasive skills to score a fine individual try for a 20-8 lead and we all thought it was game over.


The Maroons, out on their feet and with a string of mistakes behind them (kicking out of bounds on the full twice and two lost possessions in the tackle), somehow found a second wind and took play to the other end for the first time in about twenty minutes. A powerful McGuire burst saw him carry three defenders over the line for a try. After Lowe’s conversion it was 20-14 with eight minutes on the clock. Five minutes later it was Papalii charging onto a sweetly timed Cherry-Evans pass to touch down. Debutant Lowe nervelessly added the extras again and with less than three minutes to go it was 20-20 with golden point looming.


With a minute on the clock and Queensland on the attack, Cherry-Evans chose not to attempt a mid-range field goal, perhaps fearing that a missed attempt would give NSW one final set with seven tackles to get within range of a shot at goal. Instead he put up a bomb that was successfully defended. NSW made very few metres in the set until the third decisive moment arrived. A spread wide to the right saw Blake Ferguson beat a couple of defenders while skirting the narrowest of passages down the sideline before he passed to Tedesco who rounded the scrambling defence to score in the last seconds of normal time.


So, for the first time in almost twenty years, NSW won a ‘decider’ and in doing so achieved back-to-back series wins for the first time since 2005. No wonder they were ecstatic! Their better performance in the second half contrasted with a series of Queensland mistakes and, in the crunch moments when the opportunities presented themselves, two of their game-breakers made the difference.


For the winners, I thought Blake Ferguson was outstanding in both defence and, even moreso, in attack. Playing like a seventh forward, he did a mountain of work throughout the game and still found the energy and skill to pull off that incredible sideline break to set up the winner. Tedesco will probably win the plaudits and that’s fair enough. He puts himself in the right position to take advantage of lead-up play and, more than once, created a break to relieve defensive pressure and swing the tide of the game. Cook had another great game and continues to transform the No. 9 role. And let’s not overlook Mitchell Pearce who finally played in a series-winning side at the eighth attempt. He made a solid if unspectacular contribution and can finally hold the Origin Shield.


For the Maroons, Daly Cherry-Evans gave his all and rallied his troops when all seemed lost. He created Papalii’s try and tackled tirelessly. Cameron Munster was probably their best as he looked dangerous every time he got the ball in his hands. Ethan Lowe, an NRL veteran making his Origin debut, was tireless in general play and his goal-kicking was nerveless. Moses Mbye had his moments and Chambers made some good forays into NSW territory. Up front, McGuire was as good as any.


The referees were called on more this time, especially in the first half when players were looking to take any advantage they could get. I don’t think we can blame the whistle-blowers too much for the players’ indiscretions. Neither the on-field referees nor those in the bunker had any influence on the outcome of the game. Credit to them.


So another tantalising year of State of Origin footy, the fortieth year of the format. In the end, the series could have gone either way. The fine line between winning and losing couldn’t be more tellingly on display when you consider that in 2019, the outcome came down to the very last play of the entire series.


As for a longer term perspective, you’d have to say that Queensland’s glory days of domination are past with the tide now flowing in favour of NSW in the foreseeable future. But Origin is a funny creature. Watch this space!



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.




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