The darkest hours are just before the dawn. And while Queensland may have endured some dark hours during this year’s State of Origin series, the first few rays of sunshine in the dawning of a new Maroons era finally broke through in Origin III.
In the first Origin game played on the Gold Coast, the third game of the series to be played in Queensland, the Maroons were gritty, resilient, at times breathtaking, and once again like the Maroons of old in a terrific 20-18 win at Cbus Super Stadium.
The threat of a Blues whitewash, and the familiar promise of the start of a NSW “dynasty”, crumbled like a Burleigh beach sandcastle as a committed Queensland salvaged their pride and a truckload of respect from what has been a car crash of a series.
No Queensland team has had to endure what these Maroons have been through this year, with Covid disruptions, a rotten injury toll, suspensions, an eligibility crisis, record defeats and even a quarantine scandal hammering them from every angle.
Despite that, or most likely because of it, the Maroons did what Queenslanders always do – picked themselves off the canvas to put a harpoon right through a Blues party.
Right from the early stages of the game it was clear that this was a different Queensland team to what we had seen in the first two games of the series.
There was a hunger and ferocity that had been missing, and a clear resolve that they would not be beaten.
When 19-year-old rookie Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow marked his Maroons debut by scoring Queensland’s first try in the 18th minute, his huge grin and his team’s intensity leading up to the try were the signs that the Maroons had rediscovered their Origin mojo.
Queensland led after four minutes through a penalty goal to Valentine Holmes, the first time they had been in front during the series, and Tabuai-Fidow’s try had the Maroons 8-6 up at halftime.
But even that milestone was hard to enjoy, with Holmes’ night ending after being dumped on the point of his shoulder two tackles before the halftime siren.
Losing their winger to start the second half, and the lead of the game eight minutes after the resumption, was simply more adversity for the Maroons furnace however, and two tries to hooker Ben Hunt inside six minutes proved the turning point of the match.
While there were plenty of Maroons heroes, Hunt was simply enormous playing out of position in the No.9 jersey, pumping out 80 minutes of quality leadership football in the middle of the field to drive Queensland home.
In the 57th minute, Hunt burrowed over from dummy-half for Queensland to regain the lead.
The try itself may have been simple, but what should not be overlooked is that it was Hunt who – 80 metres upfield – gave Queensland the opportunity by belting Latrell Mitchell in defence with the Blues on attack, giving the Maroons possession.
From there, Daly Cherry-Evans earned a 40-20 with an assist from Blues winger Josh Addo-Carr, giving Queensland the field position for Hunt to take his chance.
Six minutes later, Hunt was in again. But this time he was the recipient of some wonderful work from his teammates, headlined by the sublime Kalyn Ponga as the Maroons tore downfield looking as menacing and purposeful as they had all series.
From there it was Queensland’s defence that earned the win, with the courageous Maroons turning up time and again to shut down the holes that looked as wide as the Grand Canyon in Games 1 and 2.
While this year’s series is over, and the whitewash avoided, importantly it was the signs for the future which will give Queensland fans most hope.
While old stagers like Hunt, Josh Papalii, Daly Cherry-Evans were excellent, it was the likes of Tabuai-Fidow, Ponga, Moeaki Fotuaika, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, AJ Brimson and Kurt Capewell who will form the core of Queensland’s campaigns for years to come and the back of stellar games at Cbus Super Stadium.
A new Queensland era has begun.
QLD 20 (Hunt 2, Tabuai-Fidow tries; Holmes 2, Cherry-Evans 2 goals) d NSW 18 (Mitchell, Wighton, Koroisau tries; Mitchell 3 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast. Crowd: 26,307