Defensive effort takes its toll on beaten Blues
When the NSW team was announced for the opening State of Origin match, many believed Brad Fittler had opted for an attacking side but it was their defence which saw the Blues fall agonisingly short of a series clean sweep in an epic clash at Suncorp Stadium.
After winning the opening two matches to secure their first series win since 2014 and just the second in 13 years, the Blues went down 18-12 after a remarkable first-half defensive effort took its toll late in the game.
Despite the sin-binning of five-eighth James Maloney and a two-to-one possession count, NSW somehow managed to lead 12-8 at the interval but were unable to hold on after being forced to make 217 first-half tackles compared to 130 by the Maroons.
The Blues withstood seven consecutive sets of tackles on their line before Maloney was sent to the sin bin in the 30th minute and scored two tries while they were a man short after trailing 8-0 following an early Valentine Holmes try.
In fact, the NSW defensive wall was so difficult to penetrate that Queensland felt compelled to take the two points from a penalty goal after Maloney's sin-binning for impeding Billy Slater in the pursuit of a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber kick, as their only try by Holmes was from an intercept.
Up until that stage, the Maroons had 70% of possession and completed 17 of 19 sets of possession, forcing the Blues to make 204 tackles to 103 by their opponents.
However, the NSW players tackled themselves to a standstill, with lock Jake Trbojevic making 28 first-half tackles, while prop Paul Vaughan made 24 tackles in a 23-minute stint.
Hooker Damien Cook, who made 21 tackles, was the only Blues player to run more than 50 metres with the ball, producing the only two line breaks of the first half by either team.
The huge defensive work load forced Fittler to make more interchanges than planned in the first half and the Blues simply ran out of legs after the interval as errors crept in and discipline went out the window, with David Klemmer and Tariq Sims conceding unnecessary penalties.
Cook topped the tackle count with 46 tackles, while Trbojevic made 44, Klemmer 32 and interchange forward Angus Crichton finished with 30.
Halfback Nathan Cleary and centre James Roberts each had to make 28 tackles and the defensive work blunted the Blues ability to attack late in the second half when they needed a try after Holmes and Cherry-Evans crossed for Queensland.
While the Blues were unable to complete the first clean sweep by a NSW team since 2000, they have set a platform for the future after Fittler chose a new look team, with 11 of the team who took the field on Wednesday night never having played an Origin at Suncorp Stadium.
In total, NSW blooded 13 Origin debutants in the series and with Maloney being the only player aged over 30 they are set to be the nucleus of Blues teams for years to come.