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Queensland outlook bright after NSW plot own downfall in wild State of Origin decider

Tom Dearden, Corey Oates, Jai Arrow and Valentine Holmes celebrate Queensland’s Game 3 State of Origin win in Brisbane.
Tom Dearden, Corey Oates, Jai Arrow and Valentine Holmes celebrate Queensland’s Game 3 State of Origin win in Brisbane. Photograph: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

When it comes to Queensland’s State of Origin team, nothing is more true to its brand than a victory against all odds. The Maroons faithful are revelling – again – after the most Queensland of wins in Wednesday’s decider at Suncorp Stadium. Backs against the wall, given a chance by few, outclassed and outmanned, the Maroons did what they have done for four decades – they won on courage, smarts and passion.

Billy Slater’s team went into the decider as one of the biggest underdogs in Origin history. A team already well and truly outclassed on paper had lost star Cameron Munster. Tom Dearden and Tom Gilbert were both named to debut in the hottest of furnaces. The rest, they say, is history, and the legend of the Queensland Origin jumper has been added to.

In one of the wildest and most physical Origin encounters in years – play was stopped three times in the opening two minutes due to head knocks and two players were sin binned for punching – Queensland held their nerve and forced New South Wales to lose theirs for a win that will echo through the ages.

Mercurial fullback Kalyn Ponga played his finest game in Queensland colours, scoring the decisive try to put the Maroons back on top for the final time and playing a hand in everything. Debutant Dearden was a livewire who enjoyed such a wonderful debut he will put pressure on skipper Daly Cherry-Evans going forward. Wally Lewis medal winner Patrick Carrigan – who only debuted in the opener – showed he has no reverse gear with another dominant forward display.

Slater deserves immense credit for the victory. Tactically the Maroons were faultless. It was clear from the beginning that the mantra was not to allow Queensland to beat themselves while putting NSW in a situation where they would. And they did. Once again the Maroons seemed to understand the game would be officiated in a similar way to the opener and that the ruck would be a mess. The Blues clearly did not get it. Knowing that they could get away with plenty in the ruck, they took full advantage.

For the Blues, the chickens well and truly came home to roost. The long list of bizarre selection choices Brad Fittler made throughout the series exploded in his face as his team lost what, on paper, looked an un-loseable match.

Nothing should be taken away from Queensland, who played with an unrelenting self-belief. They claimed the big moments and absorbed the runs against them. This is NSW’s cross to bear though. They lost the match. The tripwires were put in place well before Wednesday night as Fittler fell into a trap as old as Origin itself, ruined by choice and his own inability to make the right one.

Blues coach Brad Fittler with his team at full-time.
Blues coach Brad Fittler with his team at full-time. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Few anticipated Daniel Tupou would win selection ahead of Josh Addo-Carr. Tupou was targeted all night by Queensland and made a critical error on the stroke of half-time that led to a Maroons try. He was weak with his running, going at just 6.05 metres a run and having the second slowest play-the-ball of any Blue.

Siosifa Talakai is arguably not in the best half dozen Blues centres or the top dozen backrowers but won selection on his versatility. In a gritty second half he was penalised for an incorrect play-the-ball coming out from his own end and then missed a simple tackle on his own line that allowed Ponga to score the try that put Queensland on top.

Jarome Luai and Stephen Crichton both threw ill-timed and ill-considered passes coming out from their own line that handed the ball back to Queensland. Luai scored a quality try in the opening half but with a limited kicking game and a worrying defensive game it was surprising that he kept the Blues’ best player from Game 1, Jack Wighton, out of the team.

Fittler has always been lauded as someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. In the early days of his time as NSW coach, it was a refreshing change from the templated conservatism of his predecessors. Fittler was fearless and cared little for what others thought. He prized the energy delivered from picking the best. But five series on, he has been weighed down by incumbency, balance and appeasement.

The NSWRL need to find a model similar to that of their Queensland counterparts that allows for differing viewpoints, connections and links to different clubs, and a bird’s-eye view of what is required to win. Failure to do so could see a more talented NSW team lose a third series in four years.

To the winner go the spoils and all is sunny north of the Tweed. Slater has added to his stature, and the legend of Queensland only grows. South of the border, though, it is time for reflection after a series loss that could and should have been avoided.

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