The NSW VB Blues have blown Queensland off the park in the second half of Origin I – and exorcised any long-remaining demons – in an emphatic 28-4 victory over the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium.
The Blues held a 12-4 lead after a high-quality, frantic and physical opening half, but came out after the break and crushed the cane toads with 14 unanswered points.
The Blues just kept turning up for each other – tough, resilient and united – throughout the 80 minutes in a performance that has them just 80 minutes from their first series win since 2014. Even when the Maroons would cross for a seemingly straight-forward four-pointer, the Blues would emerge determined to defend their turf.
Laurie Daley’s side enjoyed a dominant opening 40 minutes and could have had a far greater lead but ultimately came unstuck on a number of last-play options.
Both sides were predictably physical in the opening exchanges, with Queensland laying claim to the first scoring play through a video referee-referred potential four-pointer to winger Corey Oates. The try, however, was disallowed.
It was Andrew Fifita, however, who laid the platform for the first try – and for the VB Blues – in the 2017 Origin series.
A barnstorming run from the monstrous front-rower from near 40 metres out and a sublime offload deep inside Queensland territory sent Sharks teammate James Maloney over the line adjacent to the posts to open the scoring. Maloney’s conversion gave the Blues a six-point lead.
Fifita came from the field midway through the first half with a neck injury after an ugly tackle by Queensland forward Josh McGuire that appeared to target the VB Blues forward’s neck/head.
The Queensland side, however, struck back in the 35th minute after a break down the right-hand side that ultimately ended in a pin-point Cooper Cronk kick that landed in the arms of Maroons winger Corey Oates.
But the scoring for the opening half wasn’t done, with James Tedesco receiving an inside pass from Wade Graham, before Tedesco found halfback Mitchell Pearce who crossed under the posts.
In the 52nd minute Tedesco scooted from dummy half deep inside Maroons territory, jinking off his right foot before carrying three over the line to plant the ball down for a four-pointer. Maloney’s four-pointer took the score to 18-4.
But it was in the 55th minute, just a couple of sets later, that the result was sealed. Coming off his own line, Maroons centre Justin O’Neill spilt the ball – and to Fifita the ball went. With just one man in front of him, the burly front-rower had no worries, and the lead stretched to 20.
The Blues, however, weren’t done, and with the result beyond doubt they went about rubbing salt into the Queenslanders’ wounds. And it was Jarryd Hayne, returning from a stint in the NFL, who would benefit next, with a right-to-left shift falling into his hands with just a jagged defensive line in front of him. And The Hayne Plane had no problems at all.
For the VB Blues, there were myriad outstanding performers. None more than Fifita - who was the most influential player on the field. Tedesco was tough as nails as the back, and hooker Nathan Peats was also polished in his first Origin. Captain Cordner, too, led by example.
Bring on Origin II at ANZ Stadium.