NSW were valiant in defeat, writes Peter Sterling, but didn't quite have enough to topple the mighty Maroons in a decider that exceeded expectations.
When a game carries as much hype as last night's Origin decider did, it is easy for it not to rise to the level of expectation that goes along with it.
On this occasion it was exceeded.
We were dished up a fitting finale to what has been a magnificently contested series best illustrated by the fact that the total aggregate point difference between the two states over three games was just five points.
To win seven series in a row with the quality of players involved at this level is a remarkable feat for Queensland, especially considering the longest run before this current streak was three in succession.
The Blues were valiant in defeat and it is a shame that the controversial try awarded to Justin Hodges on the stroke of half-time proved to be so significant when you consider the final scoreline.
In recent years the Maroons would have been looking for Darren Lockyer to provide the crucial late play but it was the man who bided his time off the interchange bench before the former skipper's retirement who provided the killer blow.
Cooper Cronk, in his usual cool, calm and collected manner, hit the winning field goal sweetly to provide the perfect ending for teammate Petero Civoniceva's Origin swansong.
In the afterglow of a marvellous contest these were my immediate thoughts on the NSW player performances.
1. B. STEWART (7.5) Scored his seemingly mandatory try and was faultless at the back when under great pressure. Really relished his recall to representative football and was consistent in a key position over the entire series.
2. J. HAYNE (7) Was moved to the right wing for this match to accommodate the inclusion of Brett Morris and certainly saw plenty of traffic come his way in the opening 20 minutes. Was possibly caught a touch out of position for the Darius Boyd try but was overall a solid contributor and looked particularly dangerous when the side were chasing points in the second half.
3. M. JENNINGS (7) Started the game in strong fashion but struggled to find a platform to work off the longer the game progressed. Always looked likely but it just didn't quite happen.
4. J. MORRIS (8.5) I thought he was the Blues' best and was quite outstanding in every facet of the game. Scored a freakish try by climbing over the top of Darius Boyd in the corner and saved a four-pointer with a Superman type dive on a runaway Greg Inglis. Involved himself for the full 80 minutes in what was easily his best game at the elite level.
5. B. MORRIS (8) Not far behind his twin brother in the performance stakes and began the game in great touch by bursting through an ineffective Sam Thaiday attempted tackle for the first line break of the evening. Certainly justified being brought in for the final encounter.
6. T. CARNEY (6.5) A somewhat disappointing showing from both halves in the second half when NSW were crying out for someone to take control. During a crucial period in the second 40 minutes a string of ordinary kicks allowed the opposition to play superior field position and avoid any real pressure. Unbelievable sideline conversion to lock up the scores
7. M. PEARCE (6.5) A similar assessment to the number six and it was another opportunity missed to stamp the authority needed by a chief playmaker. Was guilty of allowing Johnathan Thurston on his outside in the lead-up to that man's try on the following play.
8. T. GRANT (6.5) Didn't make the explosive start to match the one we witnessed in game two but another encouraging performance from a young man playing in one of the toughest positions, especially at this level. Not a great deal of game time but he is definitely an investment on the future.
9. R. FARAH (7) Copped some heavy treatment which contributed to a couple of errors, none more costly than a late dropped ball in the play-the-ball. Found good metres out of dummy-half in the opening exchanges but they seemed to dry up as the match progressed. Beautiful execution to put the grubber kick through for his fullback to score.
10. J. TAMOU (7) Plenty of energy in his work but not able to offload as often as we saw in the first two games. Only received a short rest after his first stint with injury necessitating him to be back in the action. Like young Grant he can be proud of his first Origin campaign.
11. B. SCOTT (7) As expected he got through a mountain of work defensively on the right edge but was somewhat anonymous in the attacking department. Was the man affected by the Justin Hodges "non shepherd" and in retrospect probably wouldn't make a second effort in the play if he had his time over. That would have made any infringement more clear-cut.
12. G. BIRD (7.5) Relishes this level of competition and was in the middle of everything that was going on at any given moment. For pure endeavour was tremendous but like the rest of the team wasn't able to promote much second phase play with so much time being spent in the Blues' own half.
13. P. GALLEN (8) More of the same from the gallant skipper who spent all night hitting the ball up and throwing himself at the opposition defence. To add to his frustration he seemed to be engaged in another running battle with the referees for much of the second half.
14. T. WILLIAMS (6) It was always going to be a big ask of the T-Rex with so little game time under his belt and he was well contained by a defence that made sure that they got at him before he could gather momentum.
15. L. LEWIS (6) After his dynamic impact in Sydney it was surprising that we did not see him injected into the contest until the final half hour of the game. Unable to make any real imprint on the game.
16. B. CREAGH (6) A very nasty head gash forced him from the field just when he seemed to be getting his running game in order. Showed his toughness by coming back into the battle later into the contest.
17. A. WATMOUGH (7) Caused problems for the Maroons with his power running until he also copped a heavy collision which shortened him up for a number of minutes. I thought he was the best of the Blues' interchange and seemed to get a good degree of playing time.