Queensland will need to call on every ounce of its fabled fighting spirit to salvage this year’s State of Origin series after imploding on the tarmac in the opening game in Townsville.
The Maroons were battered 50-6 by the rampaging Blues, giving the Queenslanders their biggest Origin loss in Origin’s 41 years with a 44-point deficit, and conjuring the ghosts of the horror show in 2000 when NSW won 56-16 on their way to a series clean-sweep.
Townsville was once Paul Green’s field of dreams after leading the Cowboys to the 2015 NRL premiership, but it turned into the scene of a nightmare debut as Queensland coach for the former Maroons half as his team were swept away by a blue tsunami.
Low on troops because of injury and suspension, and with a number of key players lacking match fitness, the Maroons failed to match the Blues for energy and intensity.
NSW led 20-0 before Queensland got on the board through Kurt Capewell six minutes before halftime, giving hope of a now customary Maroons fightback in the second half.
But after losing prop Christian Welch early in the first half with concussion, the Maroons lacked the penetration in the middle of the park to create the space the playmakers needed to spark a resurrection.
Even the support of a raucous crowd of 27,533 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium for Origin’s first visit to a regional city could not get the local heroes home.
Winger Kyle Feldt acquitted himself well in his Origin debut, joining the FOGS family as No. 218, but he was one of three Maroons – the others being Cameron Munster and Moeaki Fotuaika – to finish the game on report.
Fotuaika, the young workhorse from the Titans, was probably the pick of the Maroons with another whole-hearted display.
But aside from him and hooker Harry Grant, there were too few Queenslanders who looked threatening.
Last year’s breathtaking series win felt like a lifetime ago as the Blues, powered by a pack of performing Panthers, ruthlessly took their revenge.
Green and the Maroons now have three weeks to pick up the pieces and save the series.
They already have one ace up their sleeve in the fact that the Maroons will be at home in Queensland again for Origin II as the series moves to Suncorp Stadium.
After coming up empty-handed at Origin’s new frontier, Queensland fans will be hoping a return to Origin’s spiritual home will deliver a change of fortune.
NSW 50 (T Trbojevic 3, To’o 2, Mitchell 2, Saifiti tries; Cleary 8, Mitchell goals) d QLD 6 (Capewell try; Holmes goal) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville.