The power of one: Jarryd Hayne and the Blues celebrate victory. Photo: Getty Images
- State of Origin Game I 2014: As it happened
- Blues player ratings
- Maroons player ratings
- Jarryd Hayne: 'I went to a place that I've never been before'
This year, in an attempt toshake themselves from eight years of Queensland dominance, NSW adopted a novel approach – professionalism.
‘‘It’s like I’ve been at a retreat with my missus,’’ reported one NSW player before the game aboutthe sedate and sober camp in Coffs Harbour.
State of Origin: Qld v NSW
The Queensland Maroons take on New South Wales in the first game of the 2014 State of Origin Series at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Wednesday, May 28. Photo: Getty Images
Meanwhile, the Maroons started their camp with three solid days of training, counter-balanced by three hard days of team bonding on the drink.
So much so, according to some in the Maroons’ camp, you could almost see the Bundaberg rum coming out of the pores of some players. You could certainly smell it.
If the Queenslanders needed further reassurance that the old ways are still often the best ways, it hit them in the face as they ran out into the middle of their spiritual home at Lang Park on Wednesday night.
A hundred Origins ago, Arthur Beetson trotted out in a dirty maroon jumper with the paunch of a taxi driver, and played the game of his life to set in stone forever the greatest thing rugby league has going for it.
And now, on this night, the late Arthur Beetson was still here – in the haunting form of his retired jumper, encased in illuminated glass, right there at the end of the Maroons tunnel.
Whether the fresh approach of coach Laurie Daley will ultimately work remains to be seen. Whether the platoons of high-performance managers and sports scientists he’s employed will end the Blues’ misery is yet to be proven.
But if the Blues’ gripping 12-8 win in the series opener before 52,111 fans at Suncorp Stadium – or 104,222 heads depending on how you look at it – counts for anything, Daley is on the verge of doing what scores of coaches before him couldn’t do. Stop this Queensland side, and with a NSW side few expected to win.
You could see the Maroons coming back. There was the mandatory Queensland comeback in the second half. Then the contentious refereeing decision with seconds to go that gifted the Maroons another last-last-last chance. The thin blue line stood tall, as it had all night, and refused to bend.
NSW fans should not be gloating too hard yet – we’ve been hurt before – but there is one player who can make them believe again.
For the past month or so, nobody in the NSW camp has wanted to say Jarryd Hayne could be the difference – from Laurie Daley to The Plane himself.
That claim was immediately undermined in the first half, as the Blues’ eyes still spun wildly after conceding an early Queensland try, when he fooled Johnathan Thurston, drew Greg Inglis and then let the Morris twins do the rest.
Whether Hayne likes it or not, he provides genuine star factor to a NSW side that is more Mazda than Mercedes Benz.
The Queenslanders’ depth in genuine game breakers was evidenced in the first half when Cooper Cronk rushed himself from the field with a broken arm.
Hayne is NSW’s gamebreaker.
He doesn’t just set up tries. His sheer size, which has changed significantly since his first Origin in 2007, means he can also will his way to the line – just as he did for the Blues’ second try just before half-time when he shrugged off Thurston again.
In the second half, he almost snatched the ball out of Inglis’ hands for another. Later, he stormed through the line in typical Plane-like fashion, before turning over possession in typical Plane-like fashion.
In the dying minutes, he got a hand to the ball to prevent a Queensland try that would’ve sealed the deal for them. Again.
But the money play of the night came with six minutes remaining when Brett Morris prevented a Darius Boyd hat-trick when he slipped his body between the ball and the in-goal.
It was symbolic of the defensive courage the Blues had shown all night. Morris had dislocated his shoulder in the first half. Then he won the match.
Is the new dawn NSW and its fans have been waiting for about to break?
Before the match, in a homage to a hundred Origin matches, the crowd was reminded of the moments equally as important to the legend of these battles as Arthur’s appearance in 1980.
King Wally and MG went to re-enact their fight from 1991 - and then hugged. Benny Elias was there with his mum, and this time they cuddled sans the NSW hooker's blood smeared all over her face.
But the recreation that should've resonated loudest for Blues fans was the sight of Steve Mortimer falling to his knees, breaking down with relief, at the end of the 1985 series.
That was the win that drew a line under the early years of Maroons dominance.
Should NSW do so in Sydney in three weeks, they are sure to celebrate their new-age approach in an old-school manner.