In front of a world-record post COVID-19 crowd of 49,155, Queensland and New South Wales met in the State of Origin series decider at Suncorp Stadium. It was the twelfth decider played at the home of Queensland rugby league and for the tenth time the Maroons were to celebrate victory.
A look around the crowd revealed a surprising number of Blues jerseys, obviously worn by either relocated New South Welshmen or travellers from regional areas. Still the roar of the Queenslanders came as a shock to the Blues players who had never played Origin there before. After a season played in mostly empty stadiums the noise was deafening for everyone, but certainly uplifting for the home side.
Queensland prop Josh Papalli took the first hit-up of the game and was driven back by four New South Welshmen in a repeat of the start of Game 2. The Maroons, sniffing an opportunity in the over commitment of defenders, spun the ball to the left on the second tackle, but the Blues were up to the early challenge.
On Queensland's next possession, referee Gerard Sutton, urged on by the home crowd, penalised Angus Crichton for being overly involved in a tackle. On the last tackle the ball was sent to the left to Cameron Munster, who passed it around the back of Kurt Capewell to Corey Allan who tipped it on for Valentine Holmes to dive over in the corner. The Maroons were off to the start the crowd and coach Wayne Bennett would have wanted.
Jake Friend gave away the first penalty to the Blues, before an overexcited member of the crowd decided to go for a run across the perfectly groomed turf. The Blues were then helped along by a six again call as they pushed deep into Queensland territory. On the last tackle, Nathan Cleary put up a chip bomb which was dropped cold by Allan in his own in-goal area. As Daly Cherry-Evans decided whether or not he was offside, James Tedesco stuck his hand on the ball for the Blues first try. Cleary converted to level the scores at 6-6.
Cameron Munster kicked the kick-off way over the dead-ball line and the Blues were back on the attack again. It was a game where Queensland dominated possession, without having the finishing touch, while the Blues scrambled madly to stop raid after raid. Holmes himself blew two certain tries, dropping the ball with the line open. When the Blues did have the ball they struggled to find the energy to produce any magic. Then the game was over for their chief source of attacking energy.
Twenty minutes into the decider Tedesco slid head first into the knee of Papalli and was knocked senseless. He battled to his feet, what was left of his consciousness telling him that he needed to appear fine otherwise his night was over. He was fooling no one.
With four forwards on the bench, the Blues had to shuffle the deck, bringing Isaah Yeo on into the centres, with Parramatta fullback Clint Gutherson moving to fill Tedesco's enormous boots.
With one of his first touches in the unfamiliar centre position Yeo dropped the ball from a Blues attacking scrum. It put Queensland back on the attack again, and the defensive workload was starting to take its toll, as debutant Harry Grant sprang into action, looking to take advantage.
When they were all but spent, Cleary belted a 40/20 on an early tackle to turn things around for the Blues. They were given a six again call and piled the pressure on the Maroons before Cody Walker spilt the ball. It was a night of high pressure and critical errors. The unsurprising news filtered through that Tedesco had failed his HIA and was finished for the season.
Munster then split the Blues defence, and his kick ahead was dropped by Daniel Tupou as he was driven backwards in a tackle before ever having possession. On the next tackle, Munster saw wide open spaces to his right and kicked towards Brenko Lee, who nearly messed it up before his cousin Edrick was able to regather and stride over the line. The conversion put the home team ahead 12-6 in the shadow of halftime.
Munster, who only survived two minutes of Game 2, was starting to show his class at this level. Every touch of the ball provided headaches for the Blues. Despite having the majority of possession, the Maroons were only one converted try up at halftime. The question hanging over the Blues was whether they could run them down, at Suncorp, without Tedesco.
A minute into the second half and Grant was splitting the Blues up the middle. His kick ahead was knocked over the dead ball line by the pursuing Holmes in a lucky break for the Blues. In attack the Blues were looking disorganised and rattled by the Queenslanders. Whenever they managed to apply some pressure, poor discipline let them down.
Twelve minutes into the second half both teams looked drained, but the Blues were defending their line once again. Another clever grubber kick from Munster saw them receive the ball again from a drop-out. A six again call saw them enjoy more time pounding the line, before a New South Wales knock-on saw them line up again. Through it all the Blues kept fronting up in a monumental display of Origin grit and determination. Another grubber kick saw Tyson Frizell dive on the ball in an offside position. The Maroons opted to take the penalty shot at goal, much to the relief of the Blues, who were dead on their feet.
Grant was soon putting his name on the scoreboard, dummying and stepping through the Blues line from five metres out before stretching his arm out to score his state's third try. The Blues' defence just couldn't muster the effort to stop him.
Two back-to-back penalties for the Blues and Tupou crossed in the corner from a Gutherson pass. It is amazing what a bit of possession flow can do for a team at any level. Another penalty and the Blues took the two points from in front to hand the crowd the thrilling finish they deserved. With seven minutes remaining in the series the Blues trailed 20-14.
With just under five minutes remaining, Walker would join Tedesco, after being knocked out by one of his own players in a tackle. The big delay in play took the steam out of the Blues resurgence and allowed the Maroons to set up a kick to the corner.
On their next possession Yeo put through a clever kick for Addo-Carr, who kicked it ahead before being dropped by the shoulder of Allan. With three Queenslanders in pursuit, the video referee found it impossible to award a penalty try, but instead sent Allan to the sin bin for the remainder of the game.
The Blues had three minutes to find a way through 12 maroon-clad defenders. They attacked the line with everything they had, there was a six again call, and they loaded up again. Still the Maroons held firm as Cleary dribbled a kick into the in goal to force a drop out. The Maroons had enough in their legs to scramble and prevent another Blues try. The 'QUEENSLANDER!" chant echoing around the stadium before a roar greeted the final whistle and the unlikely series victory.
Cameron Munster continued the Queensland tradition of winning player of the series, despite only playing two of the three games. The Blues sent Cleary to the microphone as third option captain and the Queensland crowd booed him. I'm not sure what he had done wrong, apart from playing for New South Wales.
In accepting the shield, Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans signed off by saying that it wasn't a bad effort for the worst Queensland team ever selected. He was letting former Blues captain Paul Gallen know that his words had not been missed by the Maroons. Having been on the losing end of many, many Origin series, you would think Gallen would know better than to offer the Queenslanders any form of inspiration. Still, he stood by his words after the game, as former Queensland stars laughed in his face.
The Queensland contingent of the commentary team talked up the mystical powers of the maroon jersey. Paul Vautin swore that he did things in the Queensland jersey that he didn't find possible at club level. Wally Lewis explained that he couldn't sleep for days after he was first selected to play for his beloved state and the final words on the subject were left to former Maroons hitman Sam Thaiday
"It's not a jersey, it's a way of life," the often comical Thaiday said with a straight face.
Around him the mostly Queensland crowd shuffled out onto the streets surrounding the great stadium. Another series victory to celebrate in the surrounding pubs.
There is no denying that the Maroons own Origin, it seems they will always have that intangible advantage.
"Singin' aye aye yippee yippee aye..."