State of Origin 2021: Queensland scrap to win Game III

State of Origin 2021

Queensland escaped with a 20-18 victory over New South Wales, and in doing so have avoided a home whitewash in State of Origin 2021. The Cbus stadium played host to an end to end, brutally physical and scrappy Game III. As is often the case in Origin, the result went right down to the wire and the game was decided by just two points. A brace of tries from Ben Hunt proved the difference after 80 minutes.

In Origin history, there have only been seven clean sweeps. The first three-match series was in 1982, and since then New South Wales have won 3-0 on three occasions and Queensland have achieved the feat four times. The Blues last whitewashed their Maroon rivals in 2000. Never in history had all three games been played in Queensland but, owing to the worsening COVID-19 outbreak in NSW, Game III for State of Origin 2021 was moved to the Gold Coast. This presented an opportunity for the Blues to pile on an even bigger humiliation, one which the Maroons were desperate to avoid. 

First Half

The game started with ferocious intensity from both sides. After a soft penalty was given for a ruck infringement, Daly Cherry-Evans took the kick to get some early points on the board for Queensland. This was no surprise given their difficulty scoring in this series (six points in two games). NSW responded well and some individual brilliance from Latrell Mitchell saw him go over for the first try of the night. In response, a quick break from talisman Cameron Munster set Cowboys youngster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow free. The speedster scored under the posts on his Maroons debut. 

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Momentum was fluid until the 22nd minute; Josh Addo-Carr was smashed from behind; a clear signal of intent. The home side went on to dominate for the rest of the first half and should have scored on their right edge, if not for a heroic touch from Brain To’o, Dane Gagai would have extended the Queensland lead. There were 15 six-agains in the first 40, half of them for the Maroons in the 10 minutes before the break. A combination of stout NSW defence and uninspired attack from QLD had the score tight at the break. 

Second Half

Valentine Holmes sustained a shoulder injury at halftime, and his loss was felt immediately. The Blues started the second half faster and more aggressively, forcing consecutive goal-line dropouts. Pressure told, and seven minutes into the second half, Jack Wighton threw a huge dummy and dived over the line. Mitchell’s conversion gave the Blues a four-point lead. Queensland, led by intelligent kicking from captain Cherry-Evans, roared back and St George Illawarra’s Ben Hunt wriggled under tackles to put the ball down in the 57th minute. 

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Fatigue and frustration gave way to pushing and shoving on the hour mark; both teams well aware of the stakes. Once again, the Maroons responded more positively. Blues coach Brad Fittler laid the blame at the door of the officials during a mid-game interview, “they’re laying all over us…we’re not getting much from the ref.” Fittler’s side attempted to break but an intercepted Tom Trbojevic offload gave Kalyn Ponga a chance to run free. Seconds later, Ben Hunt scored his second try of the game. 

With 15 minutes to go, the Maroons led 20-12. With 10 minutes to go, it was 20-18. Api Koroisau became the first hooker to score on debut since 2002, and set up an enthralling finale. Desperate Queensland defence under endless pressure led to a potential penalty try. However, Munster was adjudged to have not impeded Liam Martin. Shortly after, a speculative 50-metre penalty kick from Latrell Mitchell fell short, and Queensland saw out the rest of the game away from their line and ran the clock down to victory.  

Fallout from State of Origin 2021

There had been a lot of talk before and during the series about this New South Wales side. The backs put on a clinic in the first two games by an aggregate of 76-6 to clinch the series. The ages and consistency of the Blues squad mean this NSW side could emulate the dominant “Eight in a Row” Maroons side of 2006-2013.

For Queensland and their coach, Paul Green, this may be more than a consolation win. Green has the option of another year in charge. Prior to the game though, rumours of Billy Slater taking over for 2022 had been swirling. Cooper Cronk was effusive post-match, “whatever Paul Green did in this camp is the blueprint for Origin coaching.” A victory against an already outstanding and potentially one of the Blues’ best ever sides could provide a springboard for next year’s series. The only question: how good will New South Wales be by then? 

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