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Billy Slater exited the interstate arena in fitting style and Daly Cherry-Evans proved his Origin worth as Queensland defeated NSW 18-12 in an absorbing Game 3 at Suncorp Stadium.

In arguably the greatest ‘dead-rubber’ in Origin history, the Maroons cushioned the bitter blow of series defeat with a superb performance in front of their home crowd.

Queensland owned the majority of the first half but a couple of late lapses saw them head to the sheds four points behind. The home side rallied to score the only two tries of the gripping second stanza, however, to secure a morale-boosting win.

Slater was vintage in his 31st and final game for Queensland to claim man-of-the-match and – far more controversially – Wally Lewis Medal honours, while the maligned Cherry-Evans emphatically justified his recall.

The script-writers nearly got it perfect in the opening minutes, the two biggest storylines of Game 3 intertwining as Cherry-Evans produced a kick for captain Slater to score.

But Slater was correctly ruled to have knocked on by the Bunker. The hosts didn’t have to wait much longer to land the first blow, though.

It was a case of once bitten, twice bitten for NSW as Valentine Holmes intercepted James Tedesco’s pass and streaked 90 metres for his seventh try in just five matches for Queensland.

The Maroons dominated territory and possession for the next 20 minutes, forcing a remarkable succession of line dropouts with Cherry-Evans’ and Munster’s short kicking game pinpoint.

Another deft touch from Munster resulted in James Maloney missing the last 10 minutes of the first half. The five-eighth ran Slater off the ball in front of the NSW posts and right copped a sin-bin stint.

Holmes knocked over a regulation shot at penalty goal for 8-0.

But as in Game 2, having a one-man advantage rattled the Maroons’ focus on attack. Tom Trbojevic snaffled a cut-out ball from Munster on his own 10-metre line and ran the distance in an amazing carbon-copy of Holmes’ opener.

Then a dagger blow from the Blues seconds out from halftime.

Damien Cook capped a fine half by sending Tedesco over for a 12-8 lead achieved with less than one-third possession.

Queensland snared the early momentum after the resumption and levelled the scores with a belated second try.

Slick work from Cherry-Evans, Slater and Will Chambers provided enough space for Holmes to make it a double with an acrobatic finish.

The Blues’ heavy defensive workload appeared to finally be taking a toll. The Maroons’ breaks became more regular and Munster cut through to lay on a brilliant under-the-posts try for DCE, with Gavin Cooper assisting.

Queensland’s search for a match-sealer was repeatedly thwarted – only just – by gutsy NSW defence.

A couple of furious NSW raids on the Queensland line inside the final four threatened to send the match in golden point, but the visitors couldn’t quite find the equaliser.

The quality of the match from the first to the 80th and the ferocity of both teams’ play on both sides of the ball should bury the mind-numbing dead-rubber debate for good. It won’t, but it should.

A classic finish to a classic series – and a memorable farewell for one of Origin’s greatest champions.


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