As much as he has tried to forget, Matt King can’t seem to erase the memory of the 2006 State of Origin series and that moment from his mind.
This was the year that kicked off Queensland’s run of seven consecutive series wins – but had it not been for one horrible moment in the dying minutes of Game Three the Maroons might never have enjoyed such a dynasty.
Trailing 14-4 with 10 minutes to go, Queensland closed the gap to four when Brent Tate scored in the 71st minute. Just three minutes later, as NSW was bringing the ball back off their own line, fullback Brett Hodgson came into dummy-half and threw a pass out to King for the hit-up, but the ball didn’t come out of the hands cleanly and drifted agonisingly out of King’s reach. In a flash, Maroons captain Darren Lockyer swooped on the loose ball and raced through to score as Queensland celebrated a miraculous series win.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” King told NRL.com ahead of the 2013 series. “I started that game in the centres and it was the first game for NSW I had started in the centres so I was stoked, but Matty Cooper or someone got hurt and I had to drift over to the other wing.
“I found myself taking a lot of those play-one, play-two carries and I remember we were up by four... and poor old ‘Hodgo’ – that ball wasn’t one of his best obviously and I had no chance of getting it.
“Then ‘Locky’, the freak that he was, gobbled it up and stole the series from us. Thinking about it now, it was almost like slow motion. It was a horrible moment.”
Given Queensland’s dominance of the Origin arena ever since, it’s easy to forget how the tables could have been turned was it not for that pass.
Heading into 2006, it was the Blues that had won the previous three series and the talk at the time was that Origin was on its deathbed – a common theme over the years whenever Queensland hadn’t been travelling so well.
King doesn’t buy into that train of thought, which is why he took no pleasure from seeing the Maroons celebrate victory.
“That annoys me,” he fired. “Why is it when NSW wins three series in a row it’s the death of Origin but when we lose a few it’s the best thing since sliced bread? That really, really annoys me. Origin is going to live through anything. Like cockroaches, it will survive anything. It just really annoys me that there is one set of rules for those guys and another for us. You can probably tell how fired up I am!”
Nevertheless, 2006 is one of a number of series over the years that came to its thrilling conclusion in the dying stages of the decider and King still considers it the one that got away.
“I remember the first 20-30 minutes of Game One – I thought we were going to absolutely smash Queensland,” he recalled. “I remember big Willie (Mason) running over three or four dudes for a try. I can’t remember the score but I know we were up a long way at half-time.
“But from that point on the rest of the series was just a fight for us. If we’d played the whole series the way we played the first half an hour of that first game we would have smashed Queensland but we didn’t and it took Brett Finch to kick a field-goal for us to scrape through in that first game. Game Two they absolutely hammered us up there and then Game Three there was a legendary moment in Queensland’s history with ‘Locky’ doing what he did.
“But I firmly believe that NSW had the better team. Maybe we just got a little bit ahead of ourselves. Even in Game Three we were up by 10 points with about 15 to go.
“I’m sure we were a much better team that year but we didn’t have the killer instinct to go out and beat them like we know we could have.”
King has since watched each series with a growing sense of frustration, with NSW at times falling well short of the incredible standard Queensland has set and other times falling agonisingly short of breaking their run.
But he is adamant that the Blues are better placed than ever this year to get the job done.
“The one thing NSW has this year that I don’t think they’ve had in previous seasons is that belief and confidence,” he said. “They were two or three bad refereeing decisions away from winning the series last year, so hopefully they’ll be sweet this year.”