QUEENSLAND coach Mal Meninga says the performance of his Maroons in their series-winning third State of Origin game was “surreal”.
Queensland’s 52-6 shellacking of NSW at Suncorp Stadium gave the Maroons their ninth series win in 10 years, but even that astounding achievement was overshadowed by a performance that would rate among the best ever seen by any team in any era.
Big Mal has no hesitation in saying it was the finest performance in his decade as coach, and the legendary Maroons mentor admits he spent the days following the game having to remind himself it had not been a dream.
“I knew they would play well, but I didn’t see something like that coming. You can’t predict a game like that,” Mal said. “I knew a lot of them had a point to prove, and I think as a team they were unhappy about having their abilities and commitment questioned by outsiders.
“They had prepared exceptionally well, we didn’t have any concerns over injuries or anything like that. They were just free to focus and prepare for the game as best they could.”
Meninga said the combination of faultless preparation, simmering motivation and the ability of the players to reach new heights in their performance had combined to devastate the Blues.
“I think that performance was the culmination of the 10 years we have been together to be honest,” he said. “Over the past decade, there have been occasions where we have threatened to put together a performance like that.
“And there have been occasions where we have seen glimpses of it, little bits and pieces, during the 10 years – just glimpses of the team performing to the best of its ability.
“But the desire of the team in Origin III on our home soil, in front of our home fans, to prove a point about what a champion team they are was the making of something very special.
“All of the ingredients were there for the team to play well, and then the dramas around our captain Cameron Smith and that 60 Minutes report really just galvanised the team.
“It brought them even closer together and hardened them too. They were going to play well, but then everything came together to create a very combustible mix.”
Meninga said the ruthless performance from his almost perfect Maroons was a “once in a lifetime” display from a once in a generation team.
“I would like to think we will see another performance like that from them next year. But reality tells me we may never see another performance like that from the Queensland team again in my lifetime,” he said.
“All of the ingredients were there for a perfect storm. They prepared brilliantly, were prepared to give everything they had and, no matter what the scoreboard said, were determined to play out the full 80 minutes.
“They had a plan, and were going to see it out. In the end, what they produced was a little bit surreal to be honest with you.
“In Game One of this year’s series, both teams had completion rates of around 90 percent. That is amazing. But the way they played in Game Three was on another level again.
“Like I said, you never predict a performance like that. To see them be so dominant, to be of such quality in every little thing they did was a surreal feeling.”
The quality of Queensland’s performance was personified by interchange prop Jacob Lillyman, who ignored the hype and hysteria surrounding the NSW bench forwards to shine with his greatest game for Queensland.
“Jake played the game of his life, the best game he has played at this level. But he is just one of the guys that keeps getting better with age,” Mal said.
“We have always known how good Jake is, but I think the performance you saw from him in Game Three was the result of Jake believing in himself.
“I thought he was excellent last year as well, and I couldn’t believe they didn’t pick him for Australia. That was one of the worst selection decisions I have ever seen, if I am being honest.
“That is what Origin does. It brings out the best in you. It got the best out of Jake and the best out of a lot of the other boys too.”