With Melbourne Storm having picked up the major domestic prize in the Australian game. All eyes now turned to the season finale, a three game State of Origin series as the best in the game represented New South Wales and Queensland in the most anticipated battles of the year.
The Blues of New South Wales were looking for a third consecutive series victory to reinforce their recent dominance while the Maroons have won eleven out of the last fourteen of the three-game competitions.
It was Brad Fittler’s Blues against Wayne Bennett’s Maroons in the stage-setting first game as eleven debuting players fulfilled their boyhood dreams and took to the field to make their debuts in the 40th running of the series.
It was an end-to-end opening, both sides making good ground with their sets indicating that this might be a high scoring encounter.
Daly Cherry-Evans missed a simple looking penalty goal on eight minutes, Queensland without a recognised kicker on the field, and paying an early price.
On fifteen the Blues opened the scoring after defending their own line for an extended period. It was terrific work from the hooker, Damian Cook, as he regathered his own short grubber kick and spun in the tackle to get the ball on the ground. It was somewhat against the run of play and as Nathan Cleary added the conversion the score was 6-0.
Within five minutes fast hands from James Tedesco and Clinton Gutherson put Josh Addo-Carr free in space down the right edge to take the ball and ground one-handed in the corner. Cleary pushed his kick across the face of the posts, but it was a comfortable lead for Brad Fittler’s men.
In very quick succession, the Blues lost the services of Boyd Cordner (head) and Cameron Murray (leg) which caused some disarray in the line-up and some issues on the bench for the remainder of the game.
After an entertaining first half the Blues were 10-0 ahead, but the Maroons were not out of it yet.
Queensland were right back in it on fifty when Alexander Brimson collected a Kurt Capewell chip over the top to walk in from five metres to score. Cherry-Evans made no mistake with the conversion and the margin was down to four points.
Within three minutes Queensland were back level. Ben Hunt ran the ball in his own half before a Dane Gagai break through the NSW line, the centre then feeding his winger Xavier Coates who completed the last twenty metres for a touchdown in the corner. Cherry-Evans converted from the touchline to edge the Maroons into a 12-10 lead with twenty-five minutes left on the clock.
It was quickly turning into a classic.
The lead was extended on sixty-five, Cameron Munster tapping forward and collecting a loose ball, after a shocking NSW offload, before stepping off his left foot and changing direction to avoid the last tackler and going over on his side before grounding. Cherry-Evans added the conversion, Queensland ahead by 18-10 with fifteen minutes remaining.
Addo-Carr set up a grandstand finish as he scored his second of the night by the right corner flag after the ball was moved the full width of the field through half a dozen pairs of hands. Cleary pushed his kick wide of the sticks, NSW still needing a converted try to snatch an unlikely victory in the last three minutes of the game.
Felise Kaufusi was sin-binned with ten seconds left on the clock after a professional foul but despite being under pressure in the dying moments it was Queensland who held on for the win and to take a one game lead at the start of the series in an enthralling match.
Queensland: Brimson (T), Coates (T), Capewell, Gagai, Sami, Munster (T), Cherry-Evans (3G), Welch, Friend, Papalii, Kaufusi, Hess, Faasuamaleaui. Subs: Hunt, Collins, Arrow, Su’A.
New South Wales: Tedesco, Tupou, Gutherson, Wighton, Addo-Carr (2T), Keary, Cleary (G), Saifiti, Cook (T), Paulo, Cordner, Frizell, Trbojevic. Subs: Walker, Haas, Murray, Crichton.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.
Half Time: 0-10.
Full Time: 18-14.
Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide.
Attendance: 26,500 (Capacity).