They sent a message on the field, then sent another one off it with the NSW big men declaring they will no longer be bullied by Queensland following last night’s dramatic 14-6 win in the series opener at ANZ Stadium.
The Blues scored two first-half tries to take a 14-0 lead into half-time and held off a second-half fightback to go 1-0 up in the series for the first time since 2008, but much of the post-game focus centred on a controversial clash between NSW captain Paul Gallen and Maroons forward Nate Myles moments before half-time.
Incensed by what he believed to be dirty tactics from Myles, Gallen launched two quick punches into the back-rower’s face and is likely to miss this weekend’s NRL clash for Cronulla after later being delivered a Grade 2 striking charge.
But Gallen’s teammates have been quick to back his actions, insisting they will no longer be intimidated by the all-conquering Maroons.
Asked his thoughts on the incident, NSW prop James Tamou told NRL.com: “Well there have been a few words thrown around about how they come out and bully us and Nate Myles was the ringleader. He was the prominent figure for Queensland so by Gal doing that it really showed that we’re not going to take a backwards step. Obviously there were words spoken in camp and Gal really stepped up today.
“I think our actions have stated what we’re about.”
Lock Trent Merrin offered similar sentiments.
“I think the last few years that yeah, we have been bullied, but we knew not one of us was going to take a backward step this year,” he said. “One of us gets hurt, we all get hurt. We won’t be bullied this year, that’s for sure.
“Everyone has that common goal about them this year and we’ve played together for a while now so we knew what we were capable of doing. We went out there and did what we needed to do.”
Facing a Queensland side that has won the past seven consecutive State of Origin series, NSW flew out of the blocks with their forwards dominating the early stages and Jarryd Hayne taking full advantage as he flew onto a Luke Lewis inside ball to open the scoring and give his side a 6-0 lead.
A James Maloney penalty goal made it 8-0 after 19 minutes and although Queensland began to work its way into the game after that, a dazzling Michael Jennings run through the middle in the 36th minute gave the Blues a handy 14-0 lead at the break.
Queensland’s only try came through Darius Boyd midway through the second half but the Blues were never going to let this one slip with NSW hooker Robbie Farah crediting the Blues’ big men for their impressive start.
“They played well,” he said. “We ran hard all night, got over the ad line and really laid a platform for the backs but we knew we needed to do that. The first half was probably the best footy we’ve played in a long time.”
Despite last night’s success, the NSW players were spruiking a common theme immediately afterwards, with Farah laughing off suggestions the Origin tide is starting to turn.
“Not yet mate,” he said. “We need to win the series. It’s just one game and one game doesn’t win you the series. We need to back it up. We’ll enjoy the victory now but after that it’s back to business.”
One thing last night’s win has done for NSW is solidify the self-belief they gained from last year’s close call, when they came from a game down to very nearly steal the series at Suncorp Stadium in the decider.
Not content to rely on their two home games in 2013, the Blues are now looking to end the drought in three weeks’ time with what would no doubt be a famous win in Brisbane.
“Being a part of it the past two years, it hurts a lot, losing,” said Merrin. “For me personally it would be the best thing in the world to get the win this year. To be surrounded by guys like Greg Bird and Paul Gallen, you can see how much it means to them. It would be amazing to win it with those guys as well but I think it would just tip it off to go up there and beat them on their home turf. There could be nothing better than that.”