Queensland have delivered a heavenly performance in the City of Churches to put one hand on the State of Origin trophy, with an epic 18-14 win in the first game of the series at the Adelaide Oval.
At a venue that has hosted some of the biggest names and greatest games in cricket history, the Maroons made Origin’s debut in Adelaide one for the history books, with a sublime second-half performance to go one-up in the series.
Under the coaching dream team of Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga, the Maroons turned back the clock in Origin’s 40th year, calling on the fabled Queensland spirit to overturn a 10-0 halftime deficit to steamroll the Blues in the second half.
Like so many times before in the 40 years since Arthur Beetson trundled down the players’ race at Lang park in 1980 to start a rugby league revolution, everything was stacked against the Maroons heading into Origin I.
A string of injuries to established stars, the departure of coach Kevin Walters before the series after his ascension to the Broncos head coaching role, eight players making their debut and the loss of another rookie – centre Brenko Lee – to injury in the warm-up supposedly had Queensland ripe for a Blues belting.
All of this in the unfamiliar setting of an Origin series in November, kicking off in Adelaide of all places, in a year of COVID-19 chaos, and the Blues probably felt justified in being cocky about securing a third successive series win in 2020.
Instead, Queensland’s army of rookies stood up and delivered when their state needed them the most, heralding the start of a new Maroons era.
AJ Brimson and Xavier Coates marked their first games for Queensland with brilliant tries, while their fellow rookies Kurt Capewell, Jake Friend, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Lindsay Collins, Jaydn Su’A and Phil Sami – the latest of late call-ups for Lee – all excelled.
None were better than Capewell, perhaps the most unlikely of Queensland’s heroes.
A second-rower with Penrith, Capewell wore No.18 playing the centres, and was simply brilliant in the second half, with no less a judge than “King” Wally Lewis declaring Capewell had used his first Origin game to deliver the performance of his career.
It was hard to argue.
Capewell was the spark that got the Queensland furnace firing, with a beautiful play on the left edge to set up Brimson for Queensland’s first try in the 49th minute.
As Brimson completed his forward-roll to plant the ball, you could see the self-belief grow in the young Maroons, and they deftly banged in another try four minutes later through Coates on the other side of the field.
Cameron Munster then sealed with the win with a brilliant individual try in the 65th minute, with the Maroons hanging on grimly in the dying minutes as the Blues surged again to savour a wonderful victory.
While the rookies were sensational, there were a few old stagers who were pretty handy as well.
Skipper Daly Cherry-Evans was the official man of the match, centre Dane Gagai – as he so often does when he pulls on the Maroon jersey – went to another level with another terrific display, and forward leaders Josh Papalii, Christian Welch, Felise Kaufusi and Jai Arrow were enormous.
The next challenge for the Maroons is to turn around and back up that performance in Sydney in a week’s time, with the coronavirus-compressed series to be played in three successive weeks.
But if Origin I showed us anything, it is that this new breed of Maroons are up for the challenge.
QLD 18 (Brimson, Coates, Munster tries; Cherry-Evans 3 goals) d NSW 14 (Addo-Carr 2, Cook tries; Cleary goal) at the Adelaide Oval.