Blues' lucky rebound in 2000
Former Blues star Shaun Timmins knows better than most what it will take for New South Wales to defeat Queensland at Suncorp Stadium in Origin II.
Timmins was part of the only Blues team to travel to Brisbane with a 1-0 series lead and return with the spoils of victory. The year was 2000 and the Blues fielded a near-Test-strength line-up under coach Wayne Pearce. Every member of the Blues was either an international or would earn their first green-and-gold jersey at the end-of-season World Cup. Andrew Johns, Brad Fittler, Bryan Fletcher, Ben Kennedy and David Furner were among Timmins’ teammates.
After a narrow win to the Blues in the series opener in Sydney, memorable for the dismissal of Queensland second-rower Gorden Tallis for abusing referee Bill Harrigan, NSW headed to Suncorp, where a hostile crowd laid in wait.
“The bus went down Caxton Street and of course we were bombarded by full beer cans and abused all the way,” Timmins recalled. “But we used the atmosphere to our advantage and we made it work for us.”
Timmins played a key role for the Blues, scoring a crucial try midway through the second half that turned the tide for his state.
Accepting an inside pass from Furner, 15 metres from the Queensland line, Timmins opted for a short kick to get past Queensland fullback Darren Lockyer. Lockyer instinctively threw out an arm to try to trap the kick but only succeeded in knocking the ball back to Timmins and he scored without a hand being laid on him.
“I remember it well because I had to leave the field soon after that with my knee and I didn’t play again for a season and a half,” Timmins said.
But the St George Illawarra utility had cast the die. Minutes after Timmins’ try, Johns fired a superb pass to lock Scott Hill, who waltzed away to score and only a few minutes later Johns was at it again, offloading to Kennedy, before Furner raced away to extend the Blues’ lead to a match-winning 28-10.
A late intercept try to centre Ryan Girdler added the exclamation point on a dominant effort by the Blues, who wrapped up the series after two games for only the fourth time. And three weeks later they became only the third NSW team to claim a series clean-sweep when they hammered the Maroons 56-16 back in Sydney.
Since that watershed year, the Blues have taken a 1-0 lead to Brisbane four times – but returned south with their tails between their legs on every occasion.
There is little question that the Blues will be battling huge odds when they make the trip to Suncorp. No member of Laurie Daley’s team has ever won an Origin in Brisbane when the series has been “alive”. A handful of players have played in winning Blues’ teams in “dead rubbers” at Suncorp but none have triumphed against a Maroons side playing with the desperation that they are expected to pack in Game Two.
“There’s no doubt that it’s going to be difficult for them,” Timmins said. “They’re going to be booed wherever they go, just like we were. But my advice to them would be to soak it up. Enjoy being hated.
“I’m sure Laurie will be telling the boys to embrace the atmosphere and make it work in their favour.”
Timmins has another Origin experience that gives him first-hand understanding of what the Blues face next week. He was part of the Blues of 2004 who faced similar disruptions to the current squad.
“Laurie’s first camp was trouble-free. But this time he’s had James Tamou going DUI and then there was the trouble with Ferguson. It will make it difficult but I guess it’s similar to what happened to us in 2004. One of my good mates was kicked out (Mark Gasnier, dropped for leaving an explicit voicemail message on a woman’s mobile phone) and other players were disciplined when the team bonding night got out of hand.
But the Blues managed to leave their troubles behind them when they triumphed 9-8, thanks to an extra-time field goal by Timmins.
“The troubles probably brought us together but we ended up winning in the first Origin game that went to golden point,” he said.
“Laurie’s boys will find that everyone’s against them but if they can stay focused on footy, then anything’s possible.”