Blues win finally puts Origin back on an even keel
After more than a decade of Queensland dominance, normal service has finally been restored in one of the world's best sporting contests.
Forget NSW's series win in 2014. That was just a blip on the radar, as the Maroons proved by winning the next three State of Origin series.
This time it really is the end of the Maroons dynasty, but that doesn't mean the Blues 18-14 win at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night to clinch just their second series since 2005 is the start of a new era of domination.
The thing that has made State of Origin so great from the moment Queensland captain Arthur Beetson put one on the chin of his Parramatta team-mate Mick Cronin in the first Origin in 1980 is the closeness of the two teams.
Until the start of the Maroons winning run in 2006, little separated NSW and Queensland in the number of occasions the team song had been sung after victory in a match or series.
In fact, had Darren Lockyer not swooped on a loose pass by Brett Hodgson to score six minutes before fulltime in the 2006 decider, and NSW had hung on to their 14-10 lead, the winning record for each state would have been 37 Origin matches and 12 series apiece.
The number of points scored by each state in Origin history was almost identical after that match too, with NSW having scored 1172 points to Queensland's 1161 points.
In the period since, the Maroons have boasted a golden generation of players and NSW insiders often complained that order would not be restored in Origin until the likes of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis retired.
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With Smith, Thurston and Cronk having called time on their representative careers, that prediction has proven right and it was evident in the final minutes of Origin II on Sunday night that Queensland missed their game-management skills.
The sin-binning of James Roberts gave the Maroons the advantage of 13 players against 12 for the last 10 minutes but they couldn't score another try to overcome their four-point deficit.
In the first set of tackles after Roberts' sin binning, Queensland halfback Ben Hunt kicked the ball dead to give NSW possession from a 20-metre re-start and Will Chambers then conceded a penalty to further relieve the pressure on the Blues.
They were the type of errors NSW players had been guilty of in previous Origins when games were on the line, whereas Queensland has boasted a succession of match winners in Lockyer, Smith, Thurston and Cronk who were capable of steering their team to victory.
Between Lockyer's try to snatch a 16-14 victory in the third game of the 2006 series and the Blues 18-14 series-clinching win on Sunday night, the Maroons triumphed in 10 Origins by a converted try or less.
In contrast, NSW won three games by the same margin - two of which were in the drought-breaking 2014 series in which Queensland lost Cronk to injury in the series opener and were without him in Origin II.
The Blues have a young group of players who were chosen by Brad Fittler because of their good form at club level and lack of mental scars from previous Origin defeats. They will continue to improve the more they play together.
However, Queensland still boast a strong team, led by Inglis and featuring players of the calibre of Hunt, Chambers, Cameron Munster, Dane Gagai, Valentine Holmes and Michael Morgan.
Rookie sensation Kalyn Ponga confirmed on Sunday night that he is going to be a superstar for years to come, while the return of Matt Gillett will boost their forward pack.
After 12 years of Queensland domination, Origin is finally back on an even keel.
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