Victorious captain Paul Gallen is adamant NSW must improve to break Queensland's six-year stranglehold of State of Origin in Brisbane next month, despite courageously hanging on by four points at ANZ Stadium last night.
The Blues bravely withstood a late challenge to take the series to a deciding third game but Gallen declared Ricky Stuart's side would be required to elevate themselves to an even higher level to prevail at Suncorp Stadium on July 4. The captain said he was proud of the hosts' resilience, digging in courageously in defence as a wounded Queensland threatened to be heartbreakers once again. However, he added there were obvious areas in which NSW could lift in a bid to win a first Origin series since Stuart's team of 2005.
''It was extremely tough, extremely fast. They had so much ball and they're such a quality side. I'm just so proud of our defence there,'' Gallen said. ''I'm a little bit disappointed in a couple of their tries. They were pretty soft at this level but we defended well.
State of Origin II
Todd Carney celebrates with Blues supporters after the game. Photo: Anthony Johnson
''We have to improve. There is no two-ways about it. We've got to keep getting better. We've got a good side here. Everyone has to go back to club level and play like Origin players and then come back into camp and enjoy it.''
Gallen was particularly disappointed in the Blues' concession of a try - and the lead - to Queensland via front-rower Ben Hannant in the final minute of the first half. NSW had been well on top but as a result went to the break 6-4 down.
''We just had to get over it pretty quick, it's a bit unacceptable at this level and we've got to fix things like that up,'' Gallen said. ''I think in both games they've scored with a minute to go. We cut that out, we win. So we've got to improve.''
Manly fullback Brett Stewart scored a double in the 16-12 win, the second of which was set up superbly by five-eighth Todd Carney. The Cronulla playmaker admitted his debut appearance in Melbourne had been affected by his nerves but he was anything but weighed down by tension last night. The highlight was when he brushed off Maroons lock Ashley Harrison to scoot through the line and set up a flying Stewart.
''I just relaxed,'' Carney explained. ''I had a chat with Ricky just after lunch and we didn't talk about football, we just talked about general things. About just all the basics outside of rugby league and that's what I've done - I didn't really think about the game, I had a few moments to myself just before I got on the bus about how I was going to play. It's an unbelievable feeling.''
Asked about breaking the Blues' long series drought, Carney said: ''It's going to be a tough ask. But the defensive effort of our boys tonight - if we can show we can do it again, that's half way to winning it.''
Debutant Tim Grant made an explosive start to his Origin career - rattling Maroons veteran Petero Civoniceva backwards and on to the ground with the very first run of the game.
''I'm on top of the world, it's the best feeling ever,'' Grant said. ''There's 38 of my family here as well, it's unbelievable. It means a lot to me.''
Queensland was hit hard by an injury to interchange forward Corey Parker, who left the field early in the second half with a serious gash to his leg. The cut ran to the bone and he was taken to hospital afterwards. Fullback Billy Slater and winger Brent Tate also played on after being hurt in the first half and Slater in particular bounced back strongly after having his knee taped up at half-time.
''It freed up a bit in that second half but I was able to get through the game,'' Slater said. ''I suppose I'll find out in the next couple of days how serious it is.''
The Maroons were also affected by the sin-binning of halfback Cooper Cronk in a frantic start to the second half. The No.7 was marched for interfering with Carney's dash to dive on a grubber into the in-goal by his Blues halves partner Mitchell Pearce. In his absence NSW scored twice. ''We sort of struggled there when Cooper got put in the sin-bin,'' captain Cameron Smith said.
AT A GLANCE
NEW SOUTH WALES 16 (B Stewart 2 J Morris tries T Carney 2 goals) bt QUEENSLAND 12 (B Hannant G Inglis tries J Thurston 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referees: Tony Archer, Ben Cummins. Crowd: 83,110.