Nicholas Janzen and John Chammas
A heart-breaking finish sinked a courageous and committed NSW VB Blues side in a nail-biting one-point loss to Queensland at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night.
After a controlled and focused opening half, the VB Blues just couldn't put the icing on the cake at the back of the match, with the Maroons' halfback Cooper Cronk sinking a field goal to give the visitors an 11-10 win.
A superb 70-metre try set up by VB Blues fullback Josh Dugan and eventually scored by centre Josh Morris headlined the first half as the Blues took a 10-6 lead into the break.
The Maroons almost opened the scoring through Billy Slater after just eight minutes when the fullback scooted after a grubber but he was adjudged correctly to have illegally pushed Dugan in the contest for the ball.
The visitors weren’t to be denied six minutes later when on the weight of possession and field position, halfback Cooper Cronk sliced through the VB Blues’ left-side defence from close range. Johnathan Thurston’s conversion took the Maroons’ lead to six.
Two deserved penalties on the back of Queensland ill discipline put the VB Blues on the attack a couple of sets later, but it wasn’t for a few minutes until the home side’s great opportunity came.
A bustling run from James Tamou coupled with a sublime offload put fullback Josh Dugan into space. The Dragon raced up-field before attracting the attention of opposite number Billy Slater. Dugan, not to die wondering, opted to kick diagonally to sideline-hugging centre Josh Morris. He latched onto the ball and dived over for a memorable Origin try to make it 6-4 to the visitors.
Six minutes later a beautifully-worked set piece took the VB Blues to the lead with some crisp ballwork and some smart angled runs putting hard-hitting back-rower Beau Scott over the line. Trent Hodkinson’s first conversion for the night took the score to 10-6 in the VB Blues’ favour.
Brilliant defence featuring stellar backs-against-the-wall stuff, kept the VB Blues’ lead in tact at the break.
The Maroons gained the ascendency after the break courtesy of a number of errors from the VB Blues and despite the home side’s best efforts to keep Queensland at bay, the Maroons drew level following a slick backline movement that saw Will Chambers score in the corner for his first Origin try.
Queensland were quickly turning in the screws as the Blues were forced to defend four consecutive sets on their own line. However, tackle after tackle, the VB Blues muscled up to deny their opposition and ensure the scores remained locked up at 10-all.
With the game in the balance, Queensland had the chance to sneak in front when they were awarded a penalty 45 metres out from the sticks for a dangerous tackle from VB Blues forward Trent Merrin.
The slippery ANZ Stadium surface hampered Thurston’s strike as his kick fell short and NSW went on the attack. From the ensuing play, the home side marched up-field and got themselves within striking range for a field goal.
With a chance to hit the lead with eight minutes left, the VB Blues opted not to go for the one-pointer and were made to pay for the decision as Queensland landed a field goal in the 74th minute courtesy of Cronk.
Trailing 11-10 with just minutes on the clock, best-on-ground Dugan had a chance to level the scores but his strike fell to the right of the sticks as the Maroons held on for the narrowest of victories.
Answer the call and get behind the NSW VB Blues when they take on Queensland in this year’s Holden State of Origin with Game II played on 17 June in Melbourne. Coach Laurie Daley and the boys need your support! There’s no better way to support the Blues than being a part of The Star-backed Blatchys Blues crowd - join the Official NSW VB Blues supporter bays for Origin II here.