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Kevin Walters is swamped during Origin I in 1998 after scoring a try in the seventh minute.

Kevin Walters produced the best season of a stunningly successful career in the same year he lost his wife to cancer.

His single most decisive Origin performance came right in the middle, just three months after Kim Walters lost her courageous two-year battle with breast cancer.

With his own Queensland career on the line, two minutes on the clock and ball in hand, Walters booted downfield in little more than hope.

And with "help from above", one of rugby league's good guys set in motion a famed fairytale finish.

'Rugby league was my release'

Kim Walters passed away in the early hours of February 6, 1998 with family around her Brisbane bedside.

That day Walters took his three young sons Jack, Billy and Jett in to Broncos training as usual.

Throughout the two-year fight against the wretched disease, rugby league and Red Hill were a constant for the champion five-eighth and his family.

Wayne Bennett described Kim's chemotherapy treatments and eventual passing as "the toughest match we have ever played".

More than two decades on, Walters says he never once considered taking time away from the game to grieve.

"It was exactly the opposite," the current Queensland coach says.

"The Broncos family and rugby league community kept me going.

"It all helped me get through it. It was my outlet, training and playing and staying professional, that was a healing process as much as anything.

"Support came from everywhere, the Broncos, family members, teammates and strangers as well. Rugby league helped get us through that."

One month after Kim's funeral, Walters was back in the Broncos' No.6 jersey, lining up in the new NRL competition that had brought the warring Super League and ARL factions back together.

And by mid-May he went into Queensland camp as Allan Langer's halves partner once more, with Bennett back as Maroons coach for the first time in a decade.

Kevin Walters spins the ball out wide in Sydney in 1998.
Kevin Walters spins the ball out wide in Sydney in 1998. ©NRL Photos

Careers on the line

By the 77th minute of game one, a see-sawing contest looked to be falling the Blues' way, potentially taking several Queensland careers with it.

Walters would likely find himself in the firing line. He and Langer had combined for just one Origin win the previous six games they had played together at state level, while Roosters half Adrian Lam waited in the wings.

The Maroons had been thumped 3-0 in 1996, "and had lost the Super League series for Queensland and the ARL side had lost to NSW as well," Walters says.

"Coming off two years of losing, there was a fair bit on the line."

Walters had started the Maroons off in fine fashion with a seventh-minute try from a Langer chip kick, but three NSW tries had given the Blues the ascendancy by half-time.

Only three missed conversions from Andrew Johns, who kicked a field goal but only one from five off the tee, kept Queensland in touching distance.

Two more Langer grubbers for tries gave the Maroons an 18-13 lead in the second half, but four-pointers to Brad Fittler and Steve Menzies put the Blues up 23-18 and pressing Queensland's line.

Which is when Walters sent up his Hail Mary.

Kevin Walters gets an offload away in a tackle at the SFS.
Kevin Walters gets an offload away in a tackle at the SFS. ©NRL Photos

'There was a little bit of help from whoever's up there'

"Desperate times I guess, you need to do desperate things," he says.

"We got the ball back on our own line, and I wasn't known for my kicking skills at all, but I just booted it downfield thinking 'Ben Ikin's young, he can chase that'."

His kick at one point looked set to sail over the sideline, and there had been no call or pre-planned tactic to kick and chase.

"But the bounce was superb," Walters tells NRL.com.

"It just sat up and everything went our way."

Tonie Carroll scores the winning try in Origin I of 1998.
Tonie Carroll scores the winning try in Origin I of 1998. ©NRL Photos

Queensland had strung together the best part of a dozen inside balls and wrap-around plays with Walters featuring aplenty, the Maroons No.6 throwing the final pass for rookie centre Tonie Carroll to score with 45 seconds remaining.

Fellow debutant Darren Lockyer duly stepped up and knocked over the winning conversion after the siren sounded, securing yet another stunning Queensland comeback.

After full-time Walters told reporters "I've got no doubt we got some help from somewhere" when asked about that fateful bounce.

In a year in which he and his family suffered unfathomable loss, Walters went on to claim an Origin series win, another Broncos premiership and one final Kangaroos jersey, representing Australia for the first time since 1993.

"Obviously I had strong intentions about that game given everything that had happened and the position we were in as a team," Walters says.

"There was a little bit of help from whoever's up there, we needed that help and we got it.

Queensland coach Wayne Bennett embraces Kevin Walters after the win in Origin I of 1998.
Queensland coach Wayne Bennett embraces Kevin Walters after the win in Origin I of 1998. ©NRL Photos

"That series was my best overall. I had been in and out of teams and I just felt that was my best contribution over three games, I was confident with where my footy was at that year.

"The next year I had some injuries so that was probably my swansong at that level.

"It made it all the more memorable and to win it for Queensland was very satisfying."