New South Wales set up a mouth watering Origin decider next month with a hard fought victory at ANZ Stadium in Sydney over a much fancied Queensland side.
Queensland needed a victory to secure their seventh series in a row, but couldn’t break through a heroic defensive effort from Ricky Stewart’s Blues.
After a strong first half display, Ricky Stuart’s men went in at half-time trailing by two points, but a ten minute purple patch in the second half was enough to swing the game beyond the old enemy. With Cooper Cronk in the sin bin, the hosts scored twelve points that the Maroons could not come back from, despite their best efforts.
In a blistering opening to the game, Queensland had the best opportunity to score when a Cooper Cronk kick was spilled by Brett Stewart in his own in-goal area under pressure from Brent Tate. Thurston missed in his attempts to dive on the ball and big second rower Dave Taylor inexplicably chose to attempt to pick the ball up rather than dive on it. It was a moot point however; as the video referee judged that Stewart grounded the ball and ruled a goal line drop out.
A war of attrition ensued as both sides sought to get a foothold in the game. Buoyed by a vociferous home crowd of nearly 84,000 and led by Robbie Farah and captain Paul Gallen, New South Wales’ forwards laid into their Queensland counterparts with aggressive defence and strong running, gaining the upper hand in the arm wrestle to earn possession in Maroons territory.
Brett Stewart took advantage of the territorial advantage when he opened the scoring for New South Wales on 26 minutes. The video referee ruled the Manly full back had put the ball down despite the best efforts of Jonathon Thurston after a clever run-a-round play had put Stewart in space on the left edge of the Maroons defence. Todd Carney failed in his conversion attempt.
Queensland pulled themselves level on the stroke of half time through Ben Hannant; Cooper Cronk kicked a bomb towards Aquila Uate, the Blues winger allowed the ball to bounce he then missed it with the second attempt. It bounced up into Harrison’s hands and he passed to Hannant who crashed in next to the posts.
Thurston kicked the conversion giving the Maroons a 6-4 lead at the interval.
Cooper Cronk was sent to the Sin Bin two minutes into the second half for pulling back Todd Carney who was chasing a teasing Mitchell Pearce grubber into the in-goal area. Carney slotted over the penalty goal to level the scores at 6-6.
With the ball back the Blues went up field and put themselves ahead once again. Carney sidestepped across the line and spotted a gap before charging through and passing outside to Brett Stewart who had the legs to dive in under the posts. Carney gave the hosts a 12-16 lead with a successful conversion.
Josh Morris put New South Wales further ahead a few minutes later. Jarred Hayne collected a kick from Smith and ran into Queensland’s defence. The ball came loose and into the hands of Morris who beat Inglis in a footrace to the corner.
Cronk returned to the field after his sin binning and injected some much-needed life into the Maroons. He immediately came up with a tackle on Brett Stewart forcing a drop out and the Queenslanders scored shortly after.
The Maroons had turned the tide, though, and continued to pile on the pressure on the Blues try line. A clever Cameron Smith kick from dummy half earned another goal line drop out and from the resulting set of six, Cooper Cronk took on the line and put Nate Myles into a gap, but the big second rower was halted by a try saving tackle from Robbie Farah just short of the line.
Record-try scorer Greg Inglis scored his 14th Origin try from a bomb from Thurston. Darius Boyd jumped up and batted the ball back to his centre partner and Inglis managed to get around the outside of the Blues’ defence to go over in the corner. Thurston kicked the goal to bring the Maroons within four points.
Queensland maintained their composure and forced a third successive set of six on the NSW line and turned the territory into points when Thurston’s cross field kick was knocked back to Greg Inglis who dove in at the corner flag to take him to 14 Origin tries in his career. Jonathon Thurston’s excellent touchline conversion narrowed the deficit to four points going into the final quarter of the match.
Outstanding Queensland defence forced a last tackle kick from Todd Carney inside the Blues 20 metre line, allowing Slater to return the ball from strong field position before a penalty gifted them more yards, but a Dave Taylor knock on gave the Blues a chance to clear their line.
Uate thought he had sealed the game for the Blues with 90 seconds left on the clock when he charged down a Darius Boyd kick and raced home, but the video referee ruled a knock on.
The Maroon’s sought to find a magic play to win the game in the last minute but could not keep hold of the ball.
New South Wales held on to tie the series at one each which means the series will be decided at next month's Suncorp Stadium special.
New South Wales: B. Stewart, Hayne, Jennings, Morris, Uate; Carney, Pearce; Grant, Farah, Tamou, G. Stewart, Bird, Gallen.
Replacements: Meerin, Lewis, Creagh, Watmough.
T: B. Stewart 2, Morris
G: Carney 2
Queensland: Slater, Boyd, Inglis, Hodges, Tate; Thurston, Cronk; Scott, Smith, Civoniceva, Myles, Taylor, Harrison.
Replacements: Gillett, Hannah, Shillington, Parker.
T: Hannant, Inglis
G: Thurston 2
Referees: Ben Cummins, Tony Archer
RLFANS Man of the Match: Brett Stewart (New South Wales)