2014: Gal's Drought Breakers
Despite a change in coaches, the Blues side appeared to have been consistently building in recent years, having lost deciders by just one and two points in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Blues coach Laurie Daley, however, took the drastic step of overhauling his halves combination ahead of the 2014 series; preferring to use an in-form club combination, Daley replaced the Roosters’ James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce with the Bulldogs’ Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson. It was one of several selection decisions which would prove successful in 2014.
As State of Origin reached its 100th game in the series opener, expectation mounted and pressure was on for the Blues - and match in general - to deliver. In a hard-fought, physical, fast-paced battle at Suncorp Stadium, the series opener lived up to the hype as NSW recorded a memorable 12-8 victory. It came via a man-of-the-match performance from fullback Jarryd Hayne, and incredible toughness from twins Brett and Josh Morris, who played on despite serious shoulder and knee injuries which would later rule them both out of Game Two.
Queensland's Cooper Cronk, meanwhile, did not return to the field after breaking his arm early in the first half, while two missed conversion attempts by Johnathan Thurston denied the Maroons the chance to steal another late victory.
After the inspirational Game One win, the Blues returned home three weeks later with the task of replicating their earlier performance. Josh Dugan and Will Hopoate replaced the Morris brothers, while Greg Bird returned from suspension to force a forward pack reshuffle. In a less attractive, but similarly tight game, NSW appeared destined to go down to Queensland and send the series to a decider, before a 71st-minute Trent Hodkinson dummy returned the shield south of the border.
Two Thurston penalty goals were the only points of the opening 70 minutes, leaving a 4-0 Queensland advantage which looked likely to remain until full-time. When Hodkinson, in just his second Origin appearance, sliced past Queensland’s Daly Cherry-Evans to score late in the game – before converting his own try – it gave NSW the narrow lead, which they would maintain until the final whistle.
The drought-breaking victory was celebrated across the entire state of NSW, as well as passionate fans abroad. It was typified by the display emotion on the field of ANZ Stadium after the game, with coach Daley, captain Paul Gallen and the entire playing group relishing the long-awaited triumph.
The series had seen just five tries in the opening two games, and the low-scoring nature looked to continue when the Maroons entered the sheds with a 6-2 half-time lead in Game Three. Queensland were able to put on a much more convincing display in the final 40 minutes, finishing 32-8 winners, but the job had been done by NSW. Gallen, who had played at both lock and prop in the three games, was awarded the Wally Lewis Medal for player of the series, while Hayne and second-rower Ryan Hoffman were later named dual Brad Fittler Medallists by the NSWRL.