A hat-trick to Queensland winger Dane Gagai and a controlled performance by playmakers Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith has handed the Maroons a 26-16 Origin II victory – and the 2016 Series – in an entertaining clash at Suncorp Stadium this evening.
Laurie Daley’s VB Blues were brave and threatening but, without the presence of players Adam Reynolds and Greg Bird who missed key periods through injury, lacked the precision and polish of the Maroons’ main men.
A sensational second half, which saw action to and fro across the Suncorp Stadium turf, had the Blues well and truly in the match – but the team just didn’t make the most of their opportunities with the match on the line.
Following a 10-4 lead at half-time, Queensland stretched their lead to 12 in the 48th minute when a simple left-to-right shift saw Dane Gagai gifted an alleyoop-style ball from Darius Boyd to cross in the corner. Thurston’s second sideline conversion of the evening took the Maroons’ lead to 16-4.
But the VB Blues came bouncing back, with a try off the back of some very direct play close to Queensland’s line – Robbie Farah and Reynolds combining to put debutant Tyson Frizell over to score beside the posts. Reynolds’ goal cut the gap to just six.
Just when it looked like the Blues were back in it and had repelled a Queensland onslaught, Gagai’s third on the back of a Thurston grubber, reinstated the home side’s 10-point lead.
But the VB Blues weren’t to be disheartened – with James Maloney swooping on a loose ball after a threatening attacking raid to race 90 metres and under the posts to take the score to 20-16.
Only millimetres – and the fingertips of Michael Jennings, who was ruled to knock-on in goal – stopped the Blues from regaining the lead for the first time in the match and Frizell from claiming a double on debut. It was to be a cruel, game-changing blow.
On the change of possession, the Maroons marched downfield, with a “six again” call ultimately gifting them field position in the Blues’ red zone and a smart play out the back gifting winger Corey Oates a passage to the line. It was the final nail in the coffin.
Another near thing to Jennings off the back of a Jack Bird run threatened to eat into Queensland’s lead – and put the game on the line once again in the final minutes – but it wasn’t to be.
Queensland dominated the early stages of the match, with evergreen playmakers Thurston and Smith setting the standard for the home side. Weight of possession eventually resulted in a scoring play for the Maroons, with Thurston making no mistake with a penalty goal at close range opening the scoring after Dylan Walker was ruled to have tackled Greg Inglis without the ball.
Blues half Reynolds tied the scores at two just a few minutes later after back-to-back ruck-infringement penalties gifted the VB Blues with field position.
Second-phase play, combined with increased defensive-line speed, saw NSW gain the upper hand straight after their penalty.
A penalty against Maroons second-rower Sam Thaiday, who finds himself on report for an ugly spear tackle on VB Blues captain Paul Gallen in the 14th minute, handed NSW a 4-2 lead.
That advantage, however, was short lived – with Queensland receiving three consecutive ruck-related penalties that saw the home side camped deep in NSW territory and eventually square the score through the boot of Thurston, whose goal saw him become the most prolific scorer in Origin history.
The Blues, however, rallied, with a series of smart attacking plays and astute options gifting them both possession and field position late in the half.
With that ball, however, a fifth-tackle error on the Maroons’ tryline – a right-to-left attacking raid and a pass that didn’t go to hand – saw Queensland winger Dane Gagai swoop on a loose ball and race the length of the field to score in the corner. A Thurston conversion from the touchline made the score 10-4.
Laurie Daley’s men will now lick their wounds, regroup and return to Sydney for Origin III, to be played at ANZ Stadium on 13 July.
Queensland Maroons 26 (Dane Gagai 3, Corey Oates tries; Johnathan Thurston 5 goals) def. New South Wales VB Blues 16 (Tyson Frizell, James Maloney tries; Adam Reynolds 3, Maloney goals)