THE sleeping giant was awoken. And there is no more a giant of a team than this Queensland one, waking this morning having extended their period of dominance to seven years.
Queensland wins State of Origin
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Queensland wins State of Origin
It was close, but not close enough for the NSW Blues as they lost the State of Origin series for the seventh year in a row.
The Maroons have hardly been magnificent through the series but they muscled up when it counted. They left it late, as they invariably do; the size of the margin will hurt the Blues just as much as the defeat itself. NSW will know how close they came to toppling this beast.
Five-eighth Johnathan Thurston, who scored a try and set up another, was the best example of the Maroons lifting when they needed to, although the late field goal of halfback Cooper Cronk - also criticised for a quiet campaign - ran a close second. They just don't know how to give up.
Somehow, this match lived up to the promise. It was only going about as long as it takes to tie a pair of boots when it erupted. Tempers flared when Tim Grant gave Brent Tate a working over on the ground, while the Maroons winger returned serve, giving Greg Bird a whack on the ground. Only in Origin can the fire be so predictable yet unpredictable; predictable in that you know it will happen, and unpredictable in that you just never know what kooky antics are going to be the cause of it.
The ensuing penalty, against Paul Gallen for throwing the first punch, let the Maroons ask the first questions. The Blues had the answers, and when they forged their way out of their territory, winger Brett Morris made the first bust with his first touch of the series. Maroons lock Corey Parker was caught offside soon after and five-eighth Todd Carney converted.
The Maroons were caught napping six minutes later. Brett Morris, proving an inspired replacement for Akuila Uate, wrestled his way over with only Maroons second-rower Sam Thaiday in a position to stop him. This was no repeat of last year, when the Maroons scored four tries in 33 minutes. Still, the Maroons did score next; they found success, as in game one, by shifting left. Darius Boyd scored but the work of Parker and Thurston should not be forgotten.
The pressure on the Blues in the first half was extraordinary. They spent much of it defending - and mostly in their own half.
Then came the confusion. For all the wonderful goal-line defence, it took a missed tackle 80 metres towards the other end to let the Maroons back in. Thurston handled three times in two plays, first with his show-and-go that fooled Blues half Mitchell Pearce, then with a simple catch and pass; then he was there to accept Parker's offload to score.
By now the Blues were unravelling; lazy with a kick-off that sailed out on the full, then fatigued under pressure. It told with five minutes left in the half. Hodges ran around the back of Ben Hannant, who ran a decoy; Farah was slightly impeded by the Maroons prop's run, yet the centre's try was allowed, perhaps due to the presence of Beau Scott, who had more of a play at Hodges than Farah ever did but failed to get a touch.
Try as they might, the Blues halves simply could not get into the contest.
They were still splintering through the middle. Hooker Cameron Smith, unnervingly quiet in the first two games, split the defense and sent fullback Greg Inglis on a dash spectacularly brought to an end by Josh Morris against the right post pad.
The Maroons felt more threatened this year than during their era of dominance. Coach Mal Meninga went a bit loopy, but when his players got mad, they got even. And then when the match and the series was on the line, they struck strongest.
QUEENSLAND 21 (D Boyd J Hodges J Thurston tries J Thurston 4 goals C Cronk field goal) bt NEW SOUTH WALES 20 (J Morris B Morris B Stewart tries T Carney 4 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Tony Archer, Ben Cummins.
Game 1: QLD 18 bt NSW 10
Game 2: NSW 16 bt QLD 12
Game 3: QLD 21 bt NSW 20