Rookie Maroons could spark new era
It was supposed to signify the end of a decade-long Maroons dynasty but former Origin hooker Jason Hetherington believes Queensland's win in Game Three sets the next generation up for continued Origin success.
Never before in the history of the three-match series had the Maroons been forced to use so many players over the course of three games with eight players making their debuts as the likes of Johnathan Thuuston, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis and Matt Scott watched part or all of the series from the sideline.
Prior to Game Three Queensland had led for precisely two minutes of the 160 that had come before it but once Valentine Holmes crossed for the first of his three tries in the 15th minute they never trailed again, clinching the series with a 22-6 win that was more lopsided than the final score indicated.
No one could have envisaged two months ago that Coen Hess, Tim Glasby, Jarrod Wallace and Cameron Munster would not only earn their first Queensland caps during the 2017 series but contribute significantly to a Maroons win.
As the Blues eyed their own period of dominance after a commanding 28-4 win in Game One, Queensland coach Kevin Walters unveiled his own faces of the future and asked his leaders to show them how to win the Queensland way.
In time Josh McGuire's break in Game Two that led to Dane Gagai's try in the 52nd minute to reduce a 16-6 deficit may be viewed in the same manner as Darren Lockyer's 2006 miracle, only this time it won't be the start of a dynasty but the carrying forward of a legacy.
"One thing that was really a positive out of Game Two – apart from the win – was those young blokes learnt from John (Johnathan Thurston) and Cooper [Cronk] and Billy [Slater] and Cameron [Smith] on how Queensland win," Hetherington told NRL.com.
"It's taught this next generation [how to win]. A lot of these guys are going to be here for the next decade so that was a real valuable lesson in Game Two for the future of Queensland."
A member of Kevin Walters' coaching staff, Hetherington said it was Walters who deserved the major share of the credit for ushering in the next wave of Maroons whilst winning his first two series in charge.
Following on from Mal Meninga's tenure where the Maroons won nine of the 10 series with Meninga at the helm seemed akin to following Bradman into bat, yet Walters has glimpsed what life looks like without the champions he inherited and built a belief in those who will follow.
Six players who were suspended from selection for the 2016 series after breaking curfew during an Origin camp last January are now firmly embedded within the squad and according to Hetherington understand exactly what it means to represent their state.
"You've got to give Kevvie a wrap. The way he has come through this transitional period at the moment – and it will keep going over the next couple of years – he's done a wonderful job.
"Kevvie is a very knowledgeable footballer but his character and passion for the Queensland jumper is what stands out. We've all got it but Kevvie's at the head and the players see what that means to Kevvie. They see and feel what the Queensland jumper means.
"The players have that much respect for Kevvie that they don't want to let him down. They don't want to let themselves down or their family or their state but more importantly they don't want to let Kevvie down.
"He's one bloke in particular that I'm so happy for and so proud of.
"He's come in in a tough period. Mal set up a wonderful dynasty last decade, Kevvie has come in during a transitional period and he's handled it extremely well."
As the Maroons bid farewell to Thurston in the manner in which he deserved they must now face the prospect of beginning the 2018 campaign without both Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, both outstanding on Wednesday night.
As Hetherington said, this transitional period for Queensland is set to continue but Cronk likes what he has seen from the graduates of 2017.
"The turnover of eight debutants gives the team a great benefit going into next year's series no matter who is available," Cronk said after his 22nd appearance for Queensland.
"Let's say there are a few injuries again, you've blooded some new kids which is the best thing that Queensland could do.
"Queensland's in great hands. Origin's not about the best players, Origin's about moments, it's about competing and it's about getting up when you don't really want to.
"As long as we have got that in our Queensland players, no matter the calibre, we're going to be in good hands."