Maroons edge out Blues in Game One
A clinical second half from the Maroons and a perfectly-executed Cooper Cronk field goal have helped Queensland edge an 11-10 win over a resolute Blues side that suffered a from serious lack of execution in the second half.
It is a measure of the defensive capabilities of Laurie Daley's men on their own try-line that they conceded just two tries in 80 minutes despite handing a raft of the best attacking rugby league players of their generation chance after chance at their line.
Having taken a four-point lead to half time, the Blues just never got going in a dire second half in which they made simple errors in attack and defence and lacked execution in the big moments.
And, after having been outmuscled through the middle period of a first half in which the Blues stormed back from 6-0 down to 10-6 up, the Maroons managed to lift their game to another level after the break to shut their opponents out.
While there was little to separate the forward packs, the potency of the Queensland backs on early hit ups far exceeded that of their opponents, and while maligned Blues halves Trent Hodkinson and Mitch Pearce were solid if unspectacular, their more storied opponents managed to find the big plays just when it mattered.
Thurston was a constant threat and Cronk added the finishing touches with a try and a field goal, while Pearce kicked for a match-high 480 metres, defended well, set up a try, and Hodkinson failed to find touch from a penalty at a crucial time.
Queensland had enjoyed the momentum in the opening salvos following a Will Chambers half break and later a penalty against Josh Jackson for a flop.
It almost led to a try after eight minutes, but the video referee overruled the on-field officials after finding Billy Slater had illegally pushed Trent Hodkinson out of the way before grounding Cameron Smith's grubber.
But with the first half continuing to be played in Blues territory, Smith forced a dropout before a beautifully worked short side play on the last from the same man following a quick play the ball from Sam Thaiday created a three-on-one and allowed Cooper Cronk to slice over for a 6-0 lead.
The Blues desperately needed some more go-forward and it came from their starting big men, with both Aaron Woods and James Tamou putting into monstrous first stints of 90 and 72 metres respectively in the opening half hour – easily the best of any forwards on the field.
It was Tamou that sparked the Blues into gear when a powerful charge was followed by a precision offload to a flying Josh Dugan, who raced through a gap and, as Slater loomed up on him, dropped a perfect ball onto the toe.
Josh Morris showed great awareness to beat Darius Boyd to the ball in the corner, although Trent Hodkinson just missed the sideline conversion attempt.
With the game back to being played in the middle part of the field, a Nate Myles dropped ball on the Queensland 30 handed the Blues a chance to hit the lead and they constructed points through their halves, with Hodkinson feeding Pearce who produced a great step and pass to put Beau Scott over.
As the coaches started to roll the interchanges on the field from the half hour point, some of the energy slipped out of the game as Blues rookies Andrew Fifita and David Klemmer struggled to maintain the lofty standards of their opening props but some stiff Blues defence meant the Blues held their four-point advantage at the break.
Only an early Daniel Tupou dropped ball separated the Blues from a 100 per cent completion rate in the first half, while the Maroons weren't far behind completing 15 of 18. Highlighting how close the opening stanza was, the Blues made 190 tackles to Queensland's 191, and 690 running metres to Queensland's 195.
The Maroons almost got off to the perfect start on the resumption; a risky Farah offload couldn't be handed by Pearce before Hodkinson failed to find touch with a penalty kick awarded as the Blues defused an attacking kick. Darius Boyd almost became Origin's highest try-scorer from the ensuing set but a tap-on from Greg Inglis went in front of Boyd into touch.
The let-off didn't last long, as the Blues continued to make poor errors in attack and defence while the Maroons, in a manner they have typified over the past decade, found another level in defence to hem the Blues in their own territory.
The pressure finally told in the 55th minute when a well worked play from Cronk in a runaround with Sam Thaiday allowed Slater's cut-out to put winger Will Chambers over for his first Origin try, levelling the scores at 10-all.
In desperate search of momentum, Daley brought his starting props back into the contest and injected Trent Merrin for the first time.
But the Blues' handling continued to unravel, completing just five from their first nine sets in the second half, as Queensland continued to turn the screws with strong defence and clinical kicks, forcing back-to-back line drops outs midway through the half.
A lifting penalty against Merrin on Thurston prompted Thurston to take questionable attempt at two points and the shot didn't have the legs, with Dugan running the ball out past the 20 in a huge let off for the home team.
An almost identical lifting penalty against the Maroons just inside their half from the ensuing set handed the Blues their first attacking set of the half more than 30 minutes from the resumption, but again their execution was poor. They failed to set for a field goal and a Michael Jennings grubber went dead to gift a seven tackle set from where Cronk showed the Blues how it's done, nailing a one-pointer with clinical precision just over five minutes from time.
Daley again went to his bench, hoping Klemmer and Fifita could find the spark to get his side in attacking range. A field goal attempt from Josh Dugan went wide as the Blues again failed to set for the shot.
With the seconds ticking away, a strip looked to have given the Blues a chance but it was ruled there were two in the tackle and the Maroons were easily able to soak up the last 90 seconds on the clock to hold on to the one-point win.
Queensland 11 (Cronk, Chambers tries; Thurston goal; Cronk field goal) defeated New South Wales 10 (Morris, Scott tries; Hodkinson goal). Half-time: New South Wales 10-6. Crowd: 80,122.