ORIGIN 1 WRAP: MAROONS SURGE HOME IN CLASSIC OPENER

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Queensland’s new brigade of champions spearheaded an 18-14 comeback victory over New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium in one of the great State of Origin series openers.

Playing without any of the dynasty-leading group of Slater, Inglis, Thurston, Smith and Cronk for the first time since 2003, the Maroons surged home with a streak of 18 unanswered second-half points. Cameron Munster and Kalyn Ponga lived up to the legacy of their predecessors with five-star performances.

More experienced types Daly Cherry-Evans, Michael Morgan, Will Chambers and two-try man-of-the-match Dane Gagai were also magnificent, while Queensland’s pack was more gritty, aggressive and dynamic than NSW’s.

The Blues played well to craft an 8-0 halftime lead, but even at that stage that were arguably the second-best team on the paddock and were thoroughly outplayed for all but a couple of small pockets after the break. James Tedesco and Damien Cook were wonderful in a beaten team; several subpar performers – headlined by strike weapon Latrell Mitchell – have given Brad Fittler and the NSW brains trust plenty to ponder ahead of game two.

Both sides showed promising signs in a frenetic opening period. But NSW got on top of the territory battle and capitalised on the first penalty of the game given away by Ben Hunt in the 11th minute, with Nathan Cleary slotting a simple opportunity for 2-0.

Queensland lifted the roof off Suncorp Stadium a few minutes later as Daly Cherry-Evans sent Will Chambers screaming into open space with a brilliant cut-out ball. The hosts looked to have bagged the opening try after swinging it to the opposite sideline, but Corey Oates’ specatcular put-down was nullified by clipping the sideline on his way to the corner.

James Tedesco’s speed and class set up the first try in the 19th minute. The Blues fullback skipped out of Cameron Munster’s tackle, creating enough space for recalled veteran centre Josh Morris to power over from close range.

Cleary converted from out wide.

The Maroons desperately held out a couple of subsequent attacking forays as the speed of Tedesco, Josh Addo-Carr and Damien Cook threatened to bust the game wide open.

Queensland regrouped through a Gagai break and the adlib brilliance of Cherry-Evans, Munster and Ponga. But they were contentiously denied a try after the captain’s kick deflected off the upright, with Dylan Napa’s attempt to force the ball deemed insufficient by the replay-happy Bunker.

Munster made an amazing 40-metre run and found Chambers in support, but the Melbourne centre was run down by clubmate Addo-Carr and passed the ball forward as another Maroons chance went begging.

Ben Hunt produced a superb 40/20 from dummy-half five minutes out from halftime. Queensland could not make it count, however, despite a NSW knock-on and penalty handing them more tackles.

An absorbing an even first half, with the Blues’ superiority in icing their opportunities the difference.

The match belatedly moved into the arm-wrestle phase early the second half. Niggle and swarming defence began to prevail over the sizzling attack that dominating the opening 40.

And that defensive pressure from Queensland – barrelling Morris back into the in-goal after a sharp Munster kick – created their long-awaited first try in the 52nd minute.

A slick run-around with Felise Kaufusi gave Ponga the space to fire a pass out to Oates, who made no mistake is similar circumstances to his first-half near-miss. Ponga glanced the conversion through off the upright from touch.

The back-peddalling Blues narrowly avoided falling behind for the first time soon afterwards, holding Michael Morgan up over the try-line. But the Maroons’ rampant work without the ball had them well on top.

Cherry-Evans’ heads-up grubber came desperately close to producing a try to Gillett. A shade of doubt prevented the Bunker from coming up with a penalty try call, but Latrell Mitchell’s premature tackle on the Queensland second-rower earned a 10-minute stint in the bin.

Ponga levelled up an 8-all from a handy position with 21 minutes left.

NSW hung on bravely while a man short and looked certain to reclaim the lead when bench utility Jack Wighton created an overlapped and attempted to link with Addo-Carr.

But Dane Gagai snaffled the ball and embarked on a 95-metre sprint to the line.

Tedesco, who had been his side’s best, coughed up the ball on a kick-return on their next possession. The Maroons took a stranglehold on the contest via more cut-out ball magic from Ponga, which sent Gagai over for his second – and his 11th in as many Origins.

Ponga’s sideline conversion pushed the score out to 18-8.

On the ropes for virtually the entire second stanza, NSW set up a grandstand finish with a 75th-minute try.

Classy lead-up work from South Sydney debutants Cody Walker and Cameron Murray set up Jake Trbojevic under the posts.

The Blues came close to snatching a leveller with two minutes left. Mitchell made a bust down the touchline, but Ponga’s courageous defensive play did enough to shut down the giant centre.

It was an Origin classic by any measure, but Queensland were more than four points better than NSW. The Maroons eventually overpowered the visitors, showed greater composure in attack – despite their flubbed chances in the first half – and the DCE-Munster-Ponga triumvirate ultimately outplayed their Blues key-position counterparts.

The Maroons have to be warm favourites to regain the shield on the back of that display. The Blues have plenty of work to do and confidence to rebuild – perhaps with a line-up change or two – to square up the series in Perth in 18 days’ time.

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