JAMES Tedesco crossed with 32 seconds left on the clock to give NSW a stunning 26-20 victory in the State of Origin decider and defend their shield.
In one of the most dramatic finishes in Origin history, scores were locked at 20-all in the final minute.
So, as the shield remains south of the border for another year, Lachlan Grey looks at five things.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN REFEREELAND?
James Tedesco and Damien Cook might have been NSW’s most influential players, but the men who shaped the game weren’t wearing blue on Wednesday night.
Against all odds and reason, Gerard Sutton and Ashley Klein still managed to make a sold-out Origin decider seem sluggish at times by blowing up seven penalties in the opening 20 minutes, two of which went against Queensland within the opening five minutes.
Sutton earned cheers from the Sydney crowd after ruthlessly pinging Daly Cherry-Evans and Ethan Lowe for slow peels, and it carried from there, with the Maroons copping seven first half penalties and NSW five.
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The whistles died down in a more free-flowing second half with just three penalties blown, but eyes will once again be cast over the heavy-handedness of officials at Origin level.
Punters pay good money to see the best rugby league on offer, not to watch marginal penalties kill momentum for either side.
MAROONS AURA SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED
Until last night, Queensland were undisputed kings of the pressure situation, and history proves it, with the Maroons winning 13 of the past 19 Game III deciders.
The 20th will read differently after Tedesco’s match-winning try, but once again Queensland proved they could score from anywhere at anytime without their golden company of future Immortals.
It all looked rosy for the fancied Blues, up 20-8 with nine minutes remaining and no Smith, Slater, Cronk, Thurston or Inglis to worry about.
But that Maroons spirit shone through late, with the two Joshs — first McGuire then Papalii — scoring tries from nothing to force a thrilling deadlock.
It was NSW great Matty Johns who gleefully branded the Blues a 16-point-better side before kick-off, but you won’t hear chatter like that any more from the relieved gloaters down south.
Were NSW a better side? Yes, they probably were.
Should they be favourite again next year? Sure.
But the $3.70 Queenslanders scared the living daylights out of them last night, and punters branding these Blues on par with the nine-straight Maroons are kidding themselves.
THE SECOND-HALF ERRORS THAT KILLED QLD
To further that point, let’s look at how Queensland lost Game III rather than NSW winning it.
A moot point? Perhaps, but if the Maroons were good enough to score twice in the dying minutes, clearly something went wrong in the 70 minutes beforehand.
We’ve already covered first half penalties but the second half was marred with something else – errors.
And there were plenty.
Corey Oates and Felise Kaufusi coughed up possession with regulation carries while Will Chambers shot himself in the foot with a (dubious) knock-on after surging 40 metres upfield early in the half.
That turned possession over to the Blues and eight minutes later, Daly Cherry-Evans’ defensive misread allowed James Tedesco to scoot outside for a key try.
Kick errors from Michael Morgan and Corey Norman hurt as well, particularly Norman’s 65th minute effort – booting the ball straight out is unacceptable at Origin level.
NSW had their errors too but Queensland’s proved all the more costly.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A BENCH MAKES
If the Blues victory had to be attributed to three players, Tedesco, Blake Ferguson and Damien Cook will get the praise – but they weren’t the men who changed the game.
You won’t read about them in the record books but NSW has a different trio to thank.
Wade Graham didn’t do much after tearing his hamstring but Paul Vaughan, Dale Finucane and Cameron Murray proved how important the interchange can be in top-flight footy and brought new-found energy to the Blues as soon as they crossed the stripe.
They were everywhere – Vaughan scored a key try and busted heads, Finucane racked up 120m and 24 tackles in 41 minutes and Murray’s energiser bunny cameo sparked life back into the home side.
Sadly, Queensland lack the same impact from the bench.
Morgan couldn’t influence proceedings before McGuire’s friendly fire left him concussed while Tim Glasby and David Fifita were solid but unspectacular.
Christian Welch provided a little extra grunt in his Origin debut but Queensland desperately needed to match the Blues’ benchwarmers and were found wanting for enthusiasm and physicality.
WILL KEV STICK TO HIS WORD?
“I’ll be back next year.”
Those five words stood out from Kevin Walters’ post-match press conference but whether it’s true largely depends on another Queensland coaching question.
Walters has been widely tipped as a front-runner for Garth Brennan’s successor at Gold Coast should the current Titans coach fail to see out his contract but Kevvie’s insistence to honour his own coaching commitment could see him turn down a possible NRL job for one last Origin.
There’s been plenty of topics to unpack with Walters this year – a coach whisperer among them – but to almost pull off a series win in Sydney against the highly fancied Blues proves he has the hunger and style to turn Queensland around next year.
Much hinges on former Maroons coach and current Titans culture chief Mal Meninga.
He’s due to deliver his Gold Coast review next week and if Brennan’s spot comes under even greater scrutiny, Walters’ loyalty to Queensland and desire to coach in the NRL may come to a head.