First Queensland shut the border. Now the “worst Queensland team ever” has slammed the door on cocky NSW’s plans for a third straight series win with an epic 20-14 win in Game 3 to bring the State of Origin shield home to Queensland in 2020.
The Maroons, much maligned with a galaxy of missing experienced stars, and written off completely after a demoralising Game 2 loss in Sydney, used the occasion of Origin’s 40th birthday to write another magnificent chapter in Queensland folklore.
You need to go back to Paul Vautin’s underdogs of 1995 to find a Queensland team that had more odds stacked against it.
An Origin series postponed until November due to the coronavirus.
A late change of coach with Kevin Walters departing to take over the Broncos.
A cast of Origin rookies – some of whom had not played a game for two months before being called up to rugby league’s biggest stage – asked to stand in the way of a star-studded Blues team aiming for a trifecta of series wins.
Stand they did, and then they delivered, with a gutsy win for the ages in front of a packed Suncorp Stadium crowd to give the Maroons faithful their first series win since 2017.
All in all, Queensland blooded 14 new Maroons during the 2020 series – four of them in the white-hot intensity of an Origin series decider – and they all played their role in one of the great series wins.
The coaching old firm of Wayne Bennett, Mal Meninga and Neil Henry did a remarkable job in instilling the self-belief the new-look Maroons needed to defy history and public opinion to turn back the Blue tide.
“On behalf of the worst-ever Queensland team,” jubilant Maroons skipper Daly Cherry-Evans said after the match, “thank you very much.”
There was not much else that needed to be said.
The victory showed that while much was different in Origin’s 40th year, many things still remained the same.
The pre-game posturing from the Blues, the ridiculous criticism from over-inflated egos south of the border, and the annual lesson of never, ever writing off a Queenslander were repeated for a new audience like a re-run of Seinfeld.
And like so many times in the past, it was the Queenslanders who had the last laugh.
Cameron Munster, the Wally Lewis Medal winner as player of the series, was magnificent in the No.6 jersey famously worn by the King, driving and inspiring the Maroons to keep their collective foot on the Blues’ throat.
But it was far from a lone hand from Munster, who was given ample room to work in by a wonderful performance from the forward pack, who were burning to bury the Blues after being trampled in Sydney.
Queensland’s next-generation pack weapons Lindsay Collins and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui both ran for over 100 metres and had over 70m each in post-contact to provide wonderful yardage support for old bulls Josh Papalii and Christian Welch.
Queensland’s quartet of rookies – Corey Allan, Edrick Lee, Brenko Lee and Harry Grant – all performed exceptionally.
Grant in particular was outstanding, breaking the game open when he was injected into the game, and scoring the ultimately decisive try in the 62nd minute, heralding the start of what looks set to be one of the great Origin careers.
But Queensland by no means had things their own way, and had to hang on for dear life in the dying stages as errors and a lack of discipline opened the door for NSW to steal the game.
The Maroons bombed two tries in the second half, both on the wing of Valentine Holmes, so probably should have won the game more comfortably than they did in the end.
But on the 40th anniversary of the year Arthur Beetson walked onto Lang Park to light the Origin fuse, perhaps it was more poetic that the Maroons snuck home for a famous Origin win on the back of that fabled Queensland spirit.
QLD 20 (Holmes, E Lee, Grant tries; Holmes 4 goals) d NSW 14 (Tedesco, Tupou tries; Cleary 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane