NEW BLUES STAND TALL IN STIRRING WIN

New South Wales’ new-look side ushered in a new State of Origin era in style, finishing over the top of a plucky Queensland 22-12 to take a one-nil series lead at the MCG.

In their first match under Brad Fittler’s coaching, the Blues’ 11 debutants stood up brilliantly. Kevin Walters’ Maroons, rebuilding after the retirement of a trio of legends and reeling from the pre-match withdrawal of another in Billy Slater, fought gamely to snatch the lead early in the second half but ran out of steam.

NSW scored the last three tries of the match, with backline newbies Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr – who were each targeted heavily by the Queensland defence but came out the other side with honours – finishing off dazzling four-pointers.

Halfback Nathan Cleary and in particular hooker Damien Cook also shone from the Blues’ rookie contingent, but there was no debate about who strutted off with man-of-the-match honours: mercurial fullback James Tedesco scored the first try and was integral to the other three.

Greg Inglis was immense on both sides of the ball in his first game as Maroons skipper but he could not lead his state past the effervescent Blues.

NSW survived an early onslaught and grew in confidence as the first half wore on and nerves settled.

Well on top, NSW – somewhat reluctantly – took an easy penalty attempt in the 18th minute, James Maloney booting the first points of the night.

The Blues’ revamped line-up screamed one thing: speed. That advantage came to the fore in the 22nd minute when Damien Cook’s sizzling work out of dummy-half put Maloney through a hole and James Tedesco backed up to finish a magnificent 55-metre opening try.

Sensing their team needed a circuit-breaker, veteran centres Will Chambers and Inglis bent the rule-book to provide it. Olympic-class niggler Chambers roughed up 20-year-old opposite Mitchell and gave him a trademark gobful before Inglis raced up offside to cream wing debutant Trbojevic, leading to a well overdue push-and-shove.

Inglis was penalised but the desired unsettling of the Blues had been achieved.

Valentine Holmes may be a reluctant winger in club-land, but he’s an absolute weapon on the flank at representative level.

With the Blues creating an overlap and a second try beckoning, Holmes pilfered a cut-out pass from former Cronulla teammate Maloney and raced 90 metres for the ultimate momentum-turner – and his fifth try in three Origins – 13 minutes out from halftime.

The Maroons turned the territory and possession stats around at the back-end of the half, heading into the break two points down but with the mental edge.

A last-tackle gamble in the first set of the second stanza back-fired on the Blues and the Maroons cashed in, an impeccable Ben Hunt grubber getting in behind Josh Addo-Carr and allowing Dane Gagai to maintain his try-a-game average in his eighth match for Queensland.

Goalkicking was a major concern for Queensland heading into game one but Holmes buried the conversion from the sideline for a 12-8 lead.

NSW could so easily – and have so often – crumbled from this moment.

But Mitchell, goaded into another shirt-grabbing affair on halftime, regained bragging rights from Chambers when he steamed over from a Tedesco double-pump.

The Blues’ confidence restored, they surged back into the lead in the set from the kick-off as Tom Trbojevic outleapt Holmes to grab a Maloney bomb and score.

Tedesco’s break in the lead-up, continuing a blinder from the fullback, created the opportunity.

The match balanced on a knife’s edge as the Blues stood up defensively to repel several Maroons chances to equalise.

And it was that man again Tedesco who produced the game-breaking moment to extend the lead to double digits. The Roosters No.1 cut the Queensland defence up like a manic barber and kept the ball alive, before Addo-Carr finished off in the opposite corner to make it a unique quadrella for the teams’ four wingers.

Mitchell and Addo-Carr were narrowly denied late sealers but there was never any real threat of an all-too-familiar Queensland fightback. It was during the last 10 minutes that the absence Smith, Thurston, Cronk and Slater was most notable.

Hunt tried to lift his side with a 40-20 but subsequent options from the Maroons’ playmakers were way off the mark. The Blues closed out the result with relative ease.

There were few highlight-reel moments for NSW’s great No.7 hope Cleary but he displayed more composure in 80 minutes than Mitchell Pearce managed across an 18-Origin tenure and was flawless in defence. The Penrith linchpin is at this level to stay.

Cook’s debut was something special. He played the entire match and reeled off a game-high 52 tackles while maintaining the dummy-half spark that has electrified the NRL this season. His performance gave the Blues a huge advantage opposite fellow first-game Andrew McCullough, who was willing but pedestrian in comparison.

The searing pace of the game kept the fireworks to a minimum, save for Inglis’ bell-ringers and a couple of late shots from Reagan Campbell-Gillard. The Blues pack was solid but not overwhelmingly better than their Maroons counterparts; the engine-room addition took a back-seat to old heads Boyd Cordner (153 metres) and David Klemmer (141 metres) as no other NSW forward topped triple figures in the run-metres count.

Felise Kaufusi (43 tackles and 103 metres) and Josh McGuire (122 metres and 38 tackles) stood out in the Maroons’ pack, while five-eighth Cam Munster asked questions of the Blues all night.

It’s difficult to see changes in either squad aside from Slater’s return and possibly a recall for Matt Scott. Maybe someone makes way for Kalyn Ponga’s X-factor.

Whether the teams were simply more disciplined than the week-to-week NRL sides or the referees bowed to public pressure and put their whistles away, there were just five penalties blown in the opening forty and, staggeringly, none in the second half.

From where we were sitting it looked like a skinny 10 metres and some overzealous wrestling in the ruck that was let go.

The only takeaway that really matters is that NSW have that all-important lead after game one – an advantage that has produced 26 wins in 36 series. The job is nowhere near done, however, with the Blues kooking in from this position last year and another three times during the Maroons’ era of dominance.

But Freddy’s vibrant new Blues don’t seem to carry the burden of failures gone by.

 

 

 

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