Queensland have ended the 2018 State of Origin series on a high with a physical 18-12 victory in the third and final game.
NSW have won their first series since 2014, after wins in the first two matches, but the Maroons have at least clawed a match back for the series to end 2-1. The Blues were on the back foot for almost the full 80 minutes and almost pulled off a historic result. But in Billy Slater’s final Origin, at home at Suncorp Stadium, the Maroons edged it and the veteran got the farewell he craved.
Slater took the captaincy with Greg Inglis out injured. Dane Gagai moved into the centres to take Inglis’ spot, with Corey Oates named on the wing. Queensland had a new front-row partnership with Jai Arrow and Josh Papalii, with Tim Glasby on the bench. Ben Hunt has been dropped to the bench, replaced by Daly Cherry-Evans at number 7.
NSW were virtually unchanged, with Tariq Sims set to make his debut. Matt Prior made way for Sims’ first taste of State of Origin. Jake Trbojevic also moved to the starting side with Jack De Bellin one of the four substitutes.
The game started and just two minutes in the Maroons had a penalty, when Latrell Mitchell shoulder charged Billy Slater. Queensland went on the attack and in the next set the skipper scored what looked a memorable try. Daly Cherry-Evans put a bomb up and Slater soared to catch it, but managed to lose control of the ball as he went to ground it. The video referee saved NSW and correctly ruled no try.
Queensland forced more pressure and Cherry-Evans grubbered to ensure a goal-line drop-out. But the Blues’ defence was menacing and forced an error. NSW were then threatening the Maroons’ line but Valentine Holmes intercepted the ball and ran 90 metres to score. Holmes picked off Nathan Cleary’s pass and brought up a 4-0 score.
Holmes then converted from the sideline to make it 6-0. Queensland were in control and in the 15th minute they kept the heat on as Will Chambers forced another drop-out. James Tedesco got over the line in the 19th minute, but a knock-on in the lead-up meant no try was given.
Cherry-Evans was causing NSW real problems with his kicking game. In the 23rd minute he forced another drop-out. Still the Blues would not yield. Seven minutes later James Maloney was sin-binned for a professional foul, after moving Slater off the ball as the fullback was inches away for a try. The Blues’ task just got even harder.
Queensland surprisingly decided to take a shot at goal to take it to 8-0. NSW were showing great courage to hang in there. Then right before half-time Tom Trbojevic intercepted Cameron Munster’s pass and raced in. Cleary converted and they had a lifeline at 8-6.
But they weren’t done yet. With less than a minute left NSW had a penalty and mounted one last attack. Damien Cook ran from dummy half, drew his man and put Tedesco over brilliantly. At half-time the Blues had a stunning 12-8 lead.
Queensland had enjoyed 64% possession; nine more completed sets, four more penalties and made 87 tackles less, but still they were somehow behind. NSW had no right to be in front but miracously they were.
Brad Fittler’s men started the second half well, again Cook making easy metres around the ruck area. However, Queensland stuck to their structures and after a penalty against Sims, they hit back. The Maroons found space on the left side and Chambers put Holmes over for his second try. The winger hooked his kick, so it remained tied at 12-12.
Queensland were on a roll and then Munster set up their next try. Munster jinked and danced his way through the line, offloading to Gavin Cooper, who then found Cherry-Evans for the try. Holmes converted and the hosts had an 18-12 with 21 minutes left.
All the extra tackling NSW had done in the first half meant they were out on their feet. The Maroons were threatening their opponent’s line constantly but couldn’t deliver the final telling blow. In the end they didn’t need it.
The Blues lifted in the final period, searching for one more vital try. But it wasn’t to be. NSW walk away with the series victory this year but you can never count Queensland out.