Top 10 Unlikely Origin Heroes
Whether they were fleeting moments of brilliance or indicators of greater things to come, these 10 men made unexpected impressions on the Origin arena.
Wayne Bartrim (Game One, 1995)
Holding club records for the Gold Coast Seagulls was hardly an indicator of a player's ability to handle the demands of the Origin arena but throughout his 11 seasons in the NRL Wayne Bartrim's point-scoring exploits were great and many. Another New South Welshman who found himself wearing Maroon as a result of his first grade start just north of the border, Bartrim scored 224 points in 1994 in his final season with the Seagulls and was one of 'Fatty' Vautin's Origin unknowns for Game One of the 1995 Series. The exploits of that team to win the Series 3-0 would go down in Origin folklore but none of that might have been possible if not for Bartrim's right boot. Thirty minutes into the first half Blues enforcer Paul Harrogan was penalised for a hit on Gary Larson and sensing points were at a premium, Bartrim was invited to step forward and secure two points from 25 metres out just to the right of the posts. He curled it inside the left-hand upright and the Maroons took a 2-0 lead into half-time. And that was all they needed. The lowest-scoring interstate match on record was decided by a lock forward playing hooker in his Origin debut and set the 1995 Queensland team on a path to Origin glory.
Matt Bowen (Game One, 2005)
In many ways it was the type of play that made Maroons selectors reluctant to hand Matt Bowen a permanent place in the Queensland starting team. The mercurial Cowboys' No.1 played 10 Origin matches from 2003-2007 but it was a piece of play – an all-or-nothing gamble of instinct over instruction – in Game One, 2005, for which he – and Brett Kimmorley – will be best remembered. Trailing 19-0, NSW launched a stunning fightback that not only got coach Ricky Stuart jumping out of his chair on the sideline but put the Blues in front 20-19 before Johnathan Thurston kicked the wobbliest field goal of his career to take the game into extra-time. Spying an overlap in the 83rd minute of the game, NSW halfback Kimmorley shifted to the left and tried to hit an unmarked Matt Cooper, only for Bowen to intervene and enjoy an uninterrupted 30m run into Origin immortality.
Dane Carlaw (Game Three, 2002)
We'll give Dane Carlaw the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knew a draw was good enough for Queensland to retain the State of Origin shield in Game Three of the 2002 Series otherwise we'd have to take some of the gloss off his 40m solo effort in the final 50 seconds of the Series decider. Scoring Origin tries was not unfamiliar to the strapping Broncos back-rower – he scored four in 13 matches – but none had the significance of this one. When Jason Moodie scored the second of his two tries in his third Origin appearance for the Blues, it looked as though it would be a night to remember for the Knights flyer but in the space of two minutes it became one he'd rather forget. With the clock winding down inside the final minute Carlaw received the ball on the 40m line and from a standing start pushed Moodie aside and then burst through the attempted tackle of Brett Hodgson to score wide out and lock things up at 18-all. Lote Tuqiri missed the attempted conversion but – as Carlaw knew – that didn't matter.
Brett Finch (Game One, 2006)
In typical Brett Finch fashion it is hard to know whether the largesse of this story has been embellished in the eight years since it happened but even if half the tales are true, it's one helluva piece of Origin folklore. Craig Gower was the Blues' first-choice No.7 for Game One, 2006 but when he was forced to withdraw due to injury the day before the game, they went to Matt Orford. He declined, also due to injury, so enquiries were made as to whether Trent Barrett or Brad Fittler would come out of retirement. They both decided the boots were better hung up so selectors found the fifth-best man for the job: Roosters halfback Brett Finch. Anthony Minichiello recently claimed that Finch was at the tail end of a three-day bender when they finally tracked him down and he only joined the camp less than 24 hours prior to kick-off, but it didn't hinder his performance. Wearing No.20 and having guided his team into field-goal position in the two rucks prior in the 79th minute, Finch stepped in between dummy-half Danny Buderus and Braith Anasta and slotted the match-winner from 35m out. He was rewarded with the halfback job for Game Two but with the Series on the line in Game Three was dropped in preference for Gower.
Adam Mogg (Game Two, 2006)
When you are called in to replace the man who would become the greatest try-scorer in Origin history, you'd better be able to finish. Never mind that Adam Mogg had played a total of seven games on the wing in his five seasons in the NRL to that point, Maroons selectors facing the prospect of a fourth straight Series defeat believed he was the man to replace Greg Inglis for Game Two of the 2006 Origin Series. In what would become a 30-6 rout to level the Series, Mogg got his first Origin try early in the second half when he backed up a Johnathan Thurston break to score one of the easier four-pointers of his career and then with 20 minutes to go powered through a Mark Gasnier tackle to give his side a 24-0 advantage. With so much riding on the result of Game Three, Mogg got his side off to the best possible start by keeping his bum off the ground long enough to plant the ball after taking a Thurston cross-field kick in the left corner, his third Origin try in the space of 46 minutes. At the end of 2006 he left Australia to play for Catalans in the Super League but retained an important place in the recent Maroons legacy of success.
Michael O'Connor (Game One, 1985)
Close to 25 years since he played his last Origin match, Michael O'Connor remains the greatest point-scorer in Blues history but not even he could have predicted the influence he would have in his maiden appearance for his state. Despite having 13 Tests for the Wallabies on his resume it wasn't until O'Connor's third season with St George that he was invited to represent his state and his impact was immediate and significant. With Queensland having won the first five Origin Series, O'Connor was brought into Steve Mortimer's 1985 team and gave his side a 4-2 advantage at half-time courtesy of two penalty goals at a heavy Lang Park track. Early in the second half he scored his first try after lead-up work from Brett Kenny and Chris Mortimer and then sealed the result with a second try from a Kenny pass following a Maroons mistake. O'Connor scored all of the Blues' points in their 18-2 win, an individual total that has been bettered by only one player (Ryan Girdler, 32 points in Game Three, 2000). All told O'Connor finished his Origin career with 129 points (35 more than the next best Blue, Andrew Johns) and it all began with that classy performance on debut.
David Peachey (Game One, 2000)
In pouring rain at ANZ Stadium in its pre-Olympic configuration for Game One of the 2000 Series, David Peachey got the opportunity to show that his sublime skills that were on weekly display playing for Cronulla could indeed transfer to the Origin arena. Each touch had that Peachey class about it but it was in the final 11 minutes of the match where he came into his own. First he came up with a tackle on his goal-line when Tonie Carroll appeared certain to extend Queensland's 16-12 lead in the 69th minute and then a minute later, following a bust down-field by Brett Kimmorley, Peachey's soft hands set Ryan Girdler on a 35m run to the corner to level the scores. Then, in the wake of Gorden Tallis's send-off and with the game on the line, Peachey took the pass from Jamie Ainscough to score in the 77th minute and secure a Blues victory. And he never played Origin again.
Mat Rogers (Game One, 1999)
A first-up run for an athlete of the pedigree of Mat Rogers comes with it a high degree of expectation but no one expected the 23-year-old winger to carry an entire state on his shoulders in his maiden appearance in Game One of the 1999 Series. In a match where the Blues scored the only try through interchange player Anthony Mundine on debut, Rogers came back from a knee ligament strain that forced him from the field to kick four penalty goals to level the scores at 8-all before icing the result with a field goal – the first of his career – six minutes from full-time. In an extremely tight Series, Rogers scored all of Queensland's points again in their 12-8 loss in Game Two but missed the Game Three 10-all draw due to a knee injury, the Maroons retaining the shield courtesy of their Series win in 1998. And he didn't kick another field goal until the 2010 season with the Titans.
Shaun Timmins (Game One, 2004)
Shaun Timmins was the perfect five-eighth for Origin football. Big and aggressive with just enough skill to keep the opposition honest, four of the Kiama product's nine Origin appearances for New South Wales were wearing the No.6 jersey but when Game One of the 2004 Series went into extra-time for the first time in Origin history, no one expected this. Into the 83rd minute of a fixture that had finished 8-all after regulation time (with Timmins the sole try-scorer for the Blues), Timmins positioned himself to the left of the ruck and with a trusty left boot that had last kicked a field goal in senior footy eight years prior, sent NSW on their way to a Series win. "I was off when extra-time started and I came back on and 'Gowie' (Craig Gower) went for a few shots and I could just see them chasing him all the time. I had a whisper in his ear and 'Give us a go.'"
Paul Vautin (1995 Series)
While the New South Wales team boasted names such as Johns (x2), Harrogan, Fittler, Menzies and McGregor for Game One of the 1995 Origin Series that was decimated by the Super League war, the Maroons handed debuts to Robbie O'Davis, Danny Moore, matt Sing, Adrian Lam, Tony Hearn, Wayne Bartrim, Terry Cook, Ben Ikin and Craig Teevan. They were given no hope, particularly with a mentor in Paul Vautin who had no previous coaching experience. Although he had a decorated Origin career consisting of 22 matches between 1982-1990, Vautin was up against the greatest NSW Origin coach of all time in Phil Gould with a far superior playing roster. And even though 'Fatty' had no idea who Ben Ikin was when they shared a lift in the team hotel prior to Game One, he extracted Herculean efforts from each of his players to record a 3-0 Series whitewash that remains one of the greatest upsets in Origin history. He retained the Maroons coaching position for the next two years but perhaps wished that he hadn't; he lost the next five matches by a combined 24 points before winning Game Three of the 1997 Series.