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As part of a series looking back at four decades of State of Origin football, revisits 1981, where Wally Lewis succeeded Big Artie as Maroons captain and proved the historic win in the first ever Origin the year before had been no fluke.

After the roaring success of the inaugural State of Origin game in 1980, it was back to Lang Park in '81 for the return bout.

With the best-of-three concept still a year away, this was another a one-off contest – a chance for the Blues to restore pride after a shock defeat in 1980 or for Wally, 'Choppy' and Big Mal to take bragging rights again over the boys from the Big Smoke.

In the first of his 30 matches as Queensland captain, Lewis shifted from lock to five-eighth, partnered in the halves with debutant Ross Henrick.

Also getting their first taste of Origin footy for the Maroons were Mitch Brennan, Chris Phelan, Paul McCabe, Greg Conescu, Paul Khan, Norm Carr and Mark Murray.

In the Blue corner was the great Steve Rogers leading his state into battle and looking for revenge after he was part of the beaten side in 1980.

Coached by Ted Glossop, the Blues had no fewer than 12 debutants, with only Rogers and centre partner Mick Cronin having been part of history 12 months earlier.

Backer scores in the corner

Origin 1981: Maroons 22, Blues 15 at Lang Park

After a flurry of early fisticuffs as players marked their turf, the two sides settled down to some footy and it was Parramatta powerhouse Eric Grothe opening the scoring for the Blues when he scooped up a loose ball on his own 10-metre line and left Ross Henrick, Colin Scott and Brad Backer in his wake before sliding into the corner for a try.

The Parramatta connection came to the fore again when rookie halfback Peter Sterling set up Mick Cronin for a try before Grothe made it a double and the Blues had raced to a 15-0 lead.

Some handy lead-up work by Paul McCabe resulted in Backer grabbing Queensland's first try and the home side were back in it at 15-5 at the break.

The Maroons' second try was a Lewis special – taking the ball around 15 metres out and heading off on a diagonal run which was eerily similar to his famous try at the Sydney Football Stadium in Game 2, 1989 when he beat several defenders and pumped his fist after scoring as he willed an injury-ravaged Queensland team to one of their finest ever wins.

Fullback Colin Scott then produced a slashing burst up the middle to get within two metres of the line where he was grassed in a classic cover tackle by Grothe.

What happened next is etched in Origin folklore – Chris Close whacking Grothe across the face to get him out of the way so he could pick up the ball and power over from dummy-half.

With the Maroons on a roll and storming back into the game, Close had no intention of letting Grothe lay in the ruck so he got rid of him the best way he knew how.

When Ray Price was penalised for head butting Chris Phelan, young centre Mal Meninga calmly slotted a penalty goal to put the Maroons up 17-15 and send the Lang Park crowd into a frenzy.

The Maroons capped a superb comeback when Kiwi ref Kevin Steele awarded Meninga a penalty after he was dragged down in the in-goal by Steve Rogers when he was chasing a grubber and would have got their first.

Close clears the ruck and dives over

Plays of the game

Two icons of Origin footy had their fingerprints all over this Maroons victory – 'The King' with his second-half try and 'Choppy' with his second-half try on the back of a whack that was heard around the rugby league world.

Best player

Chris Close is one of the most loved characters in the history of Origin football and his legend was born in the early interstate battles when no quarter was asked or given. After debuting in 1980 as a 20-year-old and scoring a try, 'Choppy' backed up with a stunning performance in 1981, grabbing another three-pointer which remains one of the most replayed in Origin history courtesy of the back-hander Close gave Eric Grothe to get him out of the ruck so he could pick up the ball and dive over from dummy half.

The quote

"We've got some players really starting to sort out some grievances." – Legendary commentator Rex Mossop putting his own unique spin on the traditional softening up period which saw spotfires break out on several occasions and fists flying.

Lewis slices through on the right

Unsung hero

Chris Phelan hailed from Townsville and was running around for Souths Brisbane when he was chosen to make his Origin debut at 25. Determined not to waste the opportunity, Phelan ripped in from the opening whistle, taking the game up to Ray Price, Les Boyd and co.

He would have to wait three more years for his only other Origin cap but on this night he was part of a fired up Queensland pack which channelled the aggression and passion Artie Beetson had used a year earlier to set the tone for four decades of intense rivalry.

Sterling and Cronin combine for the Blues

The following year

The Origin series became best-of-three for the first time and the Maroons continued their dominance with a 2-1 series triumph, although they had to fight back from 1-0 down to get the chocolates.

The Blues got home 20-16 in a cracking series opener at Lang Park before Queensland hit back 11-7 in Game Two, which was also at The Cauldron, and then prevailed 10-5 in a tight contest at the SCG. Wally Lewis collected the first of his record eight man of the match awards in that series decider in Sydney.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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