State of Origin I: Five key points
In the closest of Origin encounters, resolute defence from NSW proved not quite enough as Queensland's experienced campaigners found a way to win. Here are five key points from the Maroons' 11-10 win in State of Origin I on Wednesday night.
Queensland show how and when to take a field goal
The Blues had two chances to take a crucial field goal, the first in the 73rd minute to go 11-10 up and the second a few minutes from time to try and level at 11-all, and fluffed both. The first was a decision-making error, and Mitchell Pearce ended up spreading it right on the fourth when he or Trent Hodkinson could have taken a shot from in front, then they spread it back left on the last through Hodkinson to centre Michael Jennings, whose grubber went dead. The second, in the 77th minute, went wrong when Robbie Farah's pass from dummy half went to fullback Josh Dugan rather than halfback Trent Hodkinson.
By contrast, on Queensland's only real opportunity, they set well, Cooper Cronk went deep, received the ball with no pressure on him and calmly potted it from in front.
After the game Pearce said a fourth-tackle attempt at a field goal in the first instance would have been preferable.
"We had an opportunity, we probably should have gone for a field goal there. It's disappointing. I'll have to watch it back. At the time, we still had our chance on the last tackle, but we probably should have set that up a bit better," Pearce said.
"We talked about playing the set out and working for a field goal at the end so we probably could have gone for it a play earlier which was disappointing."
Farah took the blame for the second one not finding its mark.
"That was probably my fault there, again we just didn't execute," Farah said of the second effort.
"He [Dugan] struck it well though, he just missed. Again, under fatigue we've got to be better there and probably set up and get ourselves in a better position to execute that play."
Queensland skipper Cameron Smith said when the Jennings grubber went dead it presented Queensland with a chance.
"As soon as that ball went dead myself, Cooper and JT [Johnathan Thurston] said that if we have an opportunity then we were going to take the one point and I thought our team did a very good job to get us into that position. Especially our early carries," Smith said.
"We probably took 30 or 40 off them in our first three runs so we were really controlling there when we needed too. Cooper's slotted a few over the couple of years whether it's been for Queensland or for the Melbourne Storm so he struck it nicely and he struck it when it counted so it was a good play, a big play."
Experience edges youth... just
The lead-up to the highly-anticipated series opener had a heavy focus around the old heads of Queensland taking on the youth and enthusiasm of the Blues.
With Laurie Daley making the brave decision to pick the likes of Josh Jackson, Andrew Fifita, David Klemmer and Boyd Cordner instead of veterans Luke Lewis and Anthony Watmough, the young Blues proved they weren't overawed by the Origin arena despite being pipped at the post by their opponents.
But crunch time is when the likes of inspirational veterans Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk come to the fore. Cronk's game-winning field goal was no fluke – he's done it many times before (something about sinews rings a bell?).
Take into account the presence of other leaders like Nate Myles, Corey Parker and Johnathan Thurston in the Queensland side and you can't blame Maroons coach Mal Meninga for raving on about the host of veterans who continue to tick boxes for the Sunshine State.
"[Our experience] and desire shined," Meninga said after the win. "All of those little things that are required at Origin level – the team's game management, field position game by applying pressure on the Blues – our boys were prepared to put in for one another.
"We made plenty of special efforts at special times in the game when it was needed and that comes with experience. This team is full of a fantastic bunch of fellas who are some of the greats of the game, and they keep on proving critics wrong."
Chambers made for Origin
Queensland winger Will Chambers looks to have nailed down a Maroon jumper for many years to come with a dominant performance on the right edge.
The duo of Chambers and centre Justin Hodges showed up opposite three-quarters Daniel Tupou and Michael Jennings in defence.
Considering Chambers earned an Kangaroos centre spot over Hodges in the recent Trans-Tasman Test, the 27-year-old is a readymade replacement for the veteran when he calls it quits on his representative career at season's end, as proven by his game-high 228 metres, match-levelling try and efficient defence.
"The carries and efforts from Will Chambers, and Justin Hodges too, were exceptionally good," Meninga said.
"It's Will's second game now [at Origin level] and I said after his first game it was one of the best ever debuts I've ever seen and his performance out there was close to the best second appearance I've seen as well."
Blues boosted by Maroon penalty shot
With the scores locked at 10-all inside the final 10 minutes the Maroons got a lifting penalty just inside the Blues' half and rather than turn the screws, they opted to try for a long-range two-pointer.
It was always a tough shot and Thurston's attempt fell short of the cross bar, allowing Dugan to freely return the ball and hand the Blues a let-off.
Commentator Peter Sterling noted that when deciding whether to take a penalty goal, it's worth considering what your opposition would like, and in this case the Maroons did what the Blues wanted them to do.
It was a rare moment of poor judgement from the champion side, as noted by Farah afterwards.
"When they took the shot at goal I thought that was a big boost for us," he said.
"They missed obviously and off the back of that we had a bit of momentum [but] we just didn't execute down there."
Blues come undone at start of second half
To a man, NSW blamed the poor start to the second stanza for setting the tone for the Maroons to take the advantage.
With the Blues having had the better of the first 40 and taken a four-point lead, Farah followed a good dummy-half run with a high risk offload that Pearce couldn't hold on to straight after the resumption. Three minutes later Hodkinson failed to find touch with a penalty kick. Five minutes after that a chicken wing penalty against Andrew Fifita gave the Maroons a leg-up, then two minutes after that Josh Dugan knocked on as the Blues had a rare attacking set.
Three minutes after that, in the 55th, when a good Pearce clearing kick helped the Blues out of trouble, they immediately handed back an offside penalty. Shortly after that, Will Chambers levelled up the scores for Queensland when he crossed out wide.
"We let ourselves down in the second half with our execution," Farah said.
"The amount of possession they had was very difficult for us. We found ourselves just bringing the ball out of our own half a lot of the time and fatigue in the end probably cost us in terms of execution."
Pearce added: "It was just disappointing those crucial errors at the start of the second half didn't allow us to get the field position in the second half.
"I don't think we really had any good ball at all and didn't put ourselves in a position to get points which against a quality team like that makes it tough to win a game."