QUEENSLAND will launch into the 2019 State of Origin series from a rock-solid base after a gripping, powerful and emotional win in Game Three of the 2018 series at Suncorp Stadium.
In one of the highest quality Origin games in recent memory, the Maroons emerged from a relentless war of attrition with an 18-12 victory to salvage something from a lost series and avoid the dreaded 3-0 whitewash.
Far from a dead-rubber, Origin III was a game that had just about everything, with the result still up for grabs in the final seconds as the Maroons somehow found the energy to fight back from a halftime deficit, and then hang on for victory.
Redemption comes in many forms, and the brave Maroons boasted a swag of them as a performance dripping with fabled Queensland spirit delivered a fitting result for the crowd of 51,214, and a fitting farewell for retiring captain Billy Slater.
Slater, captain for the first time in his final game for Queensland, was simply sublime, his leadership and attacking spark lifting the Maroons and simultaneously lifting him to the Wally Lewis Medal as player of the series.
Slater became the second-oldest man to captain the Maroons, 38 years after Arthur Beetson inspired Queensland to victory in the first Origin game.
Like Beetson, Slater will now walk into retirement with an unblemished record as Queensland captain.
Slater left nothing in the tank in his final game in Maroon, looking to the heavens as the fulltime siren sounded, before crouching to the turf with his head in his hands, struggling to contain his emotions.
It was a deserved send-off for one of Queensland’s finest servants, and the man recognised as the greatest fullback the game has ever seen.
But Slater’s was not the only fairytale to be played out in a Maroon jersey at Suncorp Stadium.
Daly Cherry-Evans, recalled to the Queensland team after a three-year absence, excelled with his calmness and composure to finally exorcise his Origin demons, scoring what proved to be the match-winning try.
There was redemption too for Ben Hunt, who bounced back from a below-par showing in Origin II by injecting energy into the Maroons with a great game at hooker after coming off the bench in the first half.
Equally, Queensland’s under-manned forward pack stood up to be counted, dominating the physical NSW pack and allowing the Maroons’ attacking players to weave their magic.
To that end, Cameron Munster once again excelled at five-eighth, with his powerful running and ability to off-load continually troubling the NSW defence.
Valentine Holmes continued his amazing try-scoring run in representative matches with another double, and two equally crucial interceptions.
But most of all, there was redemption for the team itself and for coach Kevin Walters, who have endured a monumentally tough series beset by injuries to key players, and the retirement of some long-time stars.
Incredibly, since becoming coach in the 2016 season, Walters has blooded 14 new Maroons as Queensland underwent an inevitable period of transition.
While this year’s series was lost as Queensland rebuilt around a core of young stars, there is no doubt that the Maroons will go into next year’s series confident they have what it takes to get back on top again.
Origin III showed that while big-name players may come and go, the Queensland spirit never dies.
Arthur Beetson knew that when he passed it on to a young Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga back in 1980.
Billy Slater, Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston know it too, now that they have passed the baton on to the next generation of Maroons.
After an Origin victory for the ages to finish 2018, they will rest assured that Queensland’s future is in good hands.
QUEENSLAND 18 (V Holmes 2, D Cherry-Evans tries; V Holmes 3 goals) d NSW 12 (J Tedesco, T Trbojevic tries; N Cleary 2 goals) at Suncorp Stadium.