New South Wales came into the second State of Origin game knowing that a loss would mean a humiliating series defeat, but that a win would put them level with Queensland going into the decider in two and a half weeks’ time.
After coming from behind to triumph by 16-10 in the first game, Queensland had been installed as slight bookies underdogs to get the win and take the series, after losing out last season, as the two sides met on neutral territory at a sold-out Optus Stadium in Perth.
The Blues made seven changes as they looked to overturn their fortunes while the Maroons had just two differences from game one´s victorious side, the anticipation was that this would be the night for Brad Fittlers´ charges as they levelled the series.
The Blues showed that they meant business in the opening exchanges and were unlucky not to open the scoring in the first couple of minutes.
The first points came for the Blues on ten minutes with a thirty metre Nathan Cleary penalty goal after the ball was illegally stripped in the tackle.
On fifteen a mix-up in the Blues defence gave Brian To´o a chance to ground but he bounced the ball, knocking on in the in-goal area.
The opening four pointer went the way of Queensland on twenty-three minutes with Felise Kaufusi taking a Kalyn Ponga inside pass and going ten metres before stretching for the line. Valentine Holmes added the conversion for a 6-2 lead.
Two minutes later and the Blues responded as a deft Clearly grubber split the Maroons defence for debutant Matt Burton to collect the bouncing ball and go round the full-back and ground by the left upright. Cleary added the conversion to put NSW into the lead.
A sensational Queensland try on the half hour snatched the lead back with five players involved in a rolling passing move from the halfway line, the ball ended up in the hands of Cam Munster to cross from ten metres out. Holmes was again accurate with the boot for a 12-8 lead in an end-to-end encounter.
After getting three set restarts and an obstruction penalty on thirty-five, all inside the Queensland red zone, the Blues should really have got over the whitewash. But after Felise Kaufusi was sin-binned on thirty-eight for a professional foul, a great pass from Burton found To´o to go over in the corner to level the scores with under a minute left on the clock. Cleary added the conversion from the touchline and NSW went into the break boasting a two-point lead.
As the game clock clicked over fifty minutes the Blues made their superior possession count when Daniel Tupou found himself in acres of space down the right side to go in without a Queensland defender getting anywhere near him. Cleary added the conversion from wide for 20-12.
New South Wales were starting to totally dominate proceedings and just before the hour Jerome Luai broke the exhausted Maroons line for a fifteen metre try after taking the ball at first receiver. Cleary was on target with the conversion for 26-12.
On sixty-three Nathan Cleary blitzed his way through the defensive line after a one-on-one ball steal to stretch for the line and ground for the fifth NSW try of the afternoon. The half-back added his sixth goal of the evening for 32-12, the Blues totally dominant.
Within two minutes Cleary was in again, NSW getting a penalty after the kick-off hadn´t gone ten metres. The Queensland defence fell off the tackles and it was way too easy for Cleary to walk in. Once again he added the extras, the Maroons now looking a little humiliated.
The seventh try came on seventy-four, this time the defence opened up and allowed Angus Crichton to walk to the line from ten metres out and dive in. Cleary added the goal for 44-12, NSW ending off a dream second half.
The Blues have levelled the series ahead of the third and final encounter in mid-July, ensuring that the game will be a sell-out and millions will be glued to their TV´s to see the outcome. The ten-minute period with Kaufusi in the sin-bin cost the Maroons dear, not only in terms of shipping points, but in serving to tire out their defence and open the door to their opponents. Another terrific, high-intensity game, which saw NSW pull away in the second half for a big win which sees the Blues now strong favourites for back-to-back series wins.
New South Wales: Tedesco, To´o (T), Burton (T), Crichton S, Tupou (T), Luai (T), Cleary (2T, 8G), Haas, Koroisau, Trbojevic J, Murray, Martin, Yeo. Subs: Crichton A (T), Cook, Paulo, TalaKai. 18th: Hynes.
Queensland: Ponga, Cobbo, Holmes (2G), Gagai, T, Muaulagi, Munster (T), Cherry-Evans, Collins, Hunt, Papalii, Capewell, Kaufusi (T, SB on 38), Fa´asuamaleaui. Subs: Grant, Arrow, Carrigan, Nanai. 18th: Dearden.
Score Progression: 2-0, 2-4, 2-6, 6-6, 8-6, 8-10, 8-12, (SB), 12-12, 14-12 : HT : 18-12, 20-12, 24-12, 26-12, 30-12, 32-12, 36-12, 38-12, 42-12, 44-12: FT.
Lead Exchange: NSW – QLD – Square – NSW – QLD – Square - NSW.
Referee: Ashley Klein.