Ruthless Maroons spoil Blues' party
The end of an era or a blip on the radar? It's a question we won't have a definitive answer for until the defending champion New South Wales Blues front up for Origin I 2015 after Queensland closed out the 2014 Holden State of Origin Series with a commanding 32-8 win at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
From the opening moments it was obvious that both sides were interested in exploring a more expansive style of football but it was the class of the Queenslanders that shone through as they endeavoured to prove there is life in the old boys yet.
With the series already in their keeping, the greatest challenge for the Blues was always going to be a mental one and although they will leave enemy territory with the State of Origin Shield safely in their grasp the post-match celebrations will have been muted.
Trailing 6-2 at half-time, the Blues defence that had been so resolute for the opening 200 minutes of the Origin Series broke for only the third time in the series four minutes into the second half when Justin Hodges cut back from the right touchline to hit Billy Slater with a flat pass 10 metres out from the line, Slater slicing through virtually untouched to extend the home side's lead to 10 points.
They almost went further ahead from the following set of six when Johnathan Thurston ran into a gaping hole on the last tackle on halfway and after he was unable to link with his support was dragged down just inches short of the line.
In the space of only a few tackles Titans co-captains Greg Bird and Nate Myles were both penalised for tackles on each other that were deemed illegal by match officials, and on the back of the one against Myles for the use of a raised forearm while in possession Josh Dugan scored the Blues' first and only try of the night in the 61st minute to reduce the margin to six.
But when Darius Boyd flashed over in the south-east corner to join Greg Inglis as the equal leading try-scorer in Origin history with nine minutes left on the clock, Maroons captain Cameron Smith leapt onto the shoulders of his teammates in jubilation at what would be his record 20th Origin victory. And Thurston's sideline conversion will have given Cowboys fans cause to smile with the rediscovery of his goal-kicking mojo, a perfect six-from-six for the night.
But heeding their captain's earlier call to be ruthless, the Maroons came up with two more for good measure, Hodges laying on his second of the night with a perfectly-timed pass for Aidan Guerra to hit a hole and send the majority of the crowd of 50,155 into raptures with six minutes remaining, and then in the 78th minute Cooper Cronk backed up a break by Guerra to score left of the posts and leave a nasty taste in the mouth of the victorious New South Welshmen.
After 141 minutes of impregnable Blues defence that stretched back to the 56th minute of Game One of the series, the Maroons finally conjured a way to score a four-pointer late in the first half and they did so from long range. Having dominated possession to the tune of 58 per cent in the opening 33 minutes of the game, it took a break from replacement Daly Cherry-Evans to breach the NSW defences.
Used as a substitute for Nate Myles on the half-hour mark, Cherry-Evans ran across the halfway line before a right-foot step saw him carve his way through into the backfield with Cronk and Smith looming in support on his inside.
With only Blues fullback Jarryd Hayne between Queensland and the tryline, Cherry-Evans dropped the ball onto his right foot and kicked a grubber across his body and right into the path of Smith who steamed through to score the fifth try of his decorated Origin career.
New South Wales had posted first points when Ben Te'o was penalised and placed on report for a high tackle on Blues half Trent Hodkinson after he had hoisted a bomb in a rare excursion into enemy territory, Hodkinson subsequently slotting the penalty goal from wide out in the 23rd minute.
But that was one of very few opportunities the series champions had to post points in the opening 40 minutes as both teams let the Steeden sing with Queensland always looking the more threatening.
Greg Inglis injected himself into the action in the sixth minute with almost instant success but was held up in the north-west corner by Blues trio James McManus, Jarryd Hayne and Josh Reynolds.
Nine minutes later Inglis was at it again, venturing into the centre of the field to take a run from dummy-half 25 metres out from the Blues line and creating a half-chance for Johnathan Thurston who was held up, again by McManus.
From the ensuing play-the-ball a Cronk kick became a mad scramble for possession with Aidan Guerra diving on a ball toed through into the in-goal, the video referee taking it off him for Thurston being in front of the kicker.
With Corey Parker's five offloads for the half causing all sorts of disruptions to the Blues defence, the Maroons were held up twice further when Darius Boyd was denied in the corner in the 30th minute and then Inglis held upright over the line in the 32nd minute.
But eventually the blue wall had to break as the home side took a 6-2 advantage into the half-time interval.
Along with Te'o and Myles, Blues five-eighth Josh Reynolds was placed on report for a shoulder charge on Queensland winger Will Chambers in the 33rd minute.
Queensland 32 (Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Aidan Guerra, Cooper Cronk tries; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals) def. New South Wales 8 (Josh Dugan try; Trent Hodkinson 2 goals). Penalties: 11-5 Queensland. Half-time: 6-2 Queensland. On report: Ben Te'o (Qld), Nate Myles (Qld), Josh Reynolds (NSW). Crowd: 50,155.Player of the Series: Paul Gallen (NSW).