A spirited NSW VB Blues outfit has farewelled retiring skipper Paul Gallen in style, with an at-the-death, never-say-die team try handing the home side an Origin III victory in one of the most memorable finishes in interstate history.
With the game on the line and the home side desperate to give their leader the finale he so richly deserves, the Blues threw caution to the win, spreading the ball right inside their own half for James Tedesco to race downfield and be pulled up just short of the line.
On the following tackle with just a handful of seconds remaining, the play spun left, with Michael Jennings pouncing on a bouncing ball to jink his way past a handful of Queenslanders to cross to give his side the victory. The skipper iced a fitting farewell, kicking his first and only Origin goal with a conversion from close to the sticks.
The Blues put in a strong opening half, taking a 6-4 lead to the break thanks to a Tyson Frizell try.
The Blues had bursts of brilliance but couldn't quite capitalise on a mountain of possession after the 20-minute mark, with the Maroons defending their line valiantly on a number of occasions,
Queensland opened the scoring through Greg Inglis in the fifth minute after a mountain of possession saw them camped inside the Blues territory. Two errors from the Blues gifted the Maroons field position, and they took complete advantage.
An out-the-back shift down the left side at close range saw evergreen playmakers Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston find Darius Boyd and Inglis, who sauntered over to open the scoring. Thurston missed the conversion, taking the score to 4-nil.
The Blues were under siege for the next 10 minutes or so, until a piece of magic from retiring hero Paul Gallen saw Frizell cross for his second try in as many matches. Gallen received the ball under pressure on the last tackle with defenders in his face, before flinging an offload to the Dragons’ back-rower to cross. James Maloney’s conversion took the Blues to a 6-4 lead.
A magic Matt Moylan ball to Josh Jackson minutes later saw the Maroons on their heels, with debutant fullback James Tedesco going close to scoring on two occasions. Penalties, six-agains and Queensland errors saw the Blues camped down on the Maroons’ line for an extended period.
Eventually the Queenslanders cracked – albeit mentally – with halfback Cooper Cronk sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, holding back a NSW chaser with the ball bouncing around the in-goal area. The visitors held out for the rest of the opening stanza, with the pint-sized playmaker returning to the action early in the second half.
NSW opened the second period in perfect fashion, with a Maloney bomb challenged by Josh Mansour hitting the turf, for Wade Graham to toe the ball through off his ‘wrong’ right foot and front-rower Andrew Fifita to chase through and score. Maloney’s second conversion of the night stretched the Blues’ lead to eight points.
The Maroons, however, struck back just a handful of minutes later when Gavin Cooper found Matt Moylan one-on-one on the Blues tryline. Cooper crashed over to score on debut, and a brain explosion by Andrew Fifita saw him wrestle the try-scorer to the ground following the four-pointer. It resulted in him being sent to the sin bin, the second marching of the match. Thurston’s conversion from near touch cut the home side’s lead to just two.
The Blues and Maroons arm-wrestled their way through the middle of the second half until the 74th minute, until a floating Cooper Cronk bomb was misjudged by the previously safe-as-houses Josh Mansour, who juggled over top of the Blues winger to give the visitors the lead. Thurston, however, missed a simple conversion, hitting all three posts in a remarkable rejection.
Then it was all the Blues – and Gallen’s fitting finale. The final pass he threw with the game on the line handed Jennings the ball, and his side the match.
Congratulations to Queensland on their series victory, but congratulations must also go to the Blues on a fantastic Origin III performance… and a wonderful send-off to their retiring captain.
NSW VB Blues 18 (Tyson Frizell, Andrew Fifita, Michael Jennings tries; James Maloney 2, Paul Gallen goals) def Queensland Maroons 14 (Greg Inglis , Gavin Cooper, Darius Boyd tries; Johnathan Thurston goals)