A magnificent rear-guard performance saw Queensland hold on to beat New South Wales 16-10 in the first State of Origin game of 2022, handing new boss Billy Slater victory in his first match as a senior coach in the process.
The legendary full-back, a winner of 18 Origin matches and eight series as a player, took the reins from Paul Green after last year’s series defeat and he could barely have asked for more from his side as they overcame a star-studded Blues outfit and a first-half deficit to claim Game 1.
For much of the first half it was a typically tight affair, with little to separate the two sides in a high-intensity showing. Jack Wighton, a controversial pick in the centres by Blues coach Brad Fittler once more given his normal starting spot in the halves for Canberra Raiders, fully justified his selection by giving his side the first lead of the night after a sweeping move from the middle of the field gave the 29-year-old a gap to exploit in the left corner.
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But just when it seemed that New South Wales would retain the slight advantage going into the break, debutant Selwyn Cobbo came up with a moment of magic for the Maroons.
After making a great run down the touchline, the teenager’s advance was closed off by the covering Jarome Luai. Yet just as he appeared likely to be tackled into touch, Cobbo kicked through with his weaker foot for Dane Gagai to pounce, and Valentine Holmes’ conversion gave Queensland a lead they would never relinquish.
When Tariq Sims got himself in a muddle from a simple scrum play early in the second half, Daly Cherry-Evans had a walk-in try to increase the Maroons’ lead to 12-4. Then Holmes’ score in the left corner moments later following slick passing from Harry Grant and Kalyn Ponga gave the away side a 12-point buffer barely 20 minutes on from having trailed.
Holmes later provided a vital moment at the other end, putting his body on the line to smother a James Tedesco grubber kick just as the Blues looked set for the simplest of tries, but they eventually burst through when Cameron Murray was sent through a gap to beat Ponga and plant the ball down to cut the deficit in half at 16-10.
That was as close as they got on the scoreboard, although they were denied by a matter of centimetres on the final play of the game as the buccaneering Isaah Yeo was tackled just short of the line under the sticks as he looked odds on to level the scores.
For their fantastic defensive efforts, Queensland were arguably worthy winners, but the magnificent intensity of the State of Origin delivered once again and the fans in Perth on June 26 will doubtless be treated to another nip-and-tuck battle in a compelling Game 2.
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