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From the moment Billy Slater named his first Origin side, the entire state of NSW had been put on notice - be prepared for an air raid.

With flyers Selwyn Cobbo and Xavier Coates winning the wing spots for the Maroons, Blues coach Brad Fittler countered by recalling Daniel Tupou for his first Origin game since 2020 to lead his bomb defusal team.

Chalk up a small victory for the rookie coach — forcing his opposition into a rethink before a ball had even been kicked into the Sydney night sky.

For the opening 28 minutes at Accor Stadium on Wednesday night, Blues wingers Tupou and Brian To'o were rarely tested. A clever grubber by Ben Hunt for Coates to chase caused mild panic for the Blues but Billy's frequent flyers stayed grounded.

And then the game plan looked like becoming confetti when Coates hobbled off with an ankle injury. Kurt Capewell shifted to left centre and Val Holmes to left wing and a big part of the Maroons' arsenal was gone.

Xavier Coates is helped off with an ankle injury midway through the first half.
Xavier Coates is helped off with an ankle injury midway through the first half. ©NRL Photos

As he has done for the Broncos all season, Cobbo showed maturity beyond his years to come up with a moment of magic. Not by soaring high to pull down a Daly Cherry-Evans kick, however, but by walking a tightrope down the sideline and putting in a perfectly placed grubber for Dane Gagai to score.

Gagai scores a special Origin try


Just three days out of his teens and playing in his first Origin, Cobbo continues to astound with his composure in the heat of battle, his cool head in a crisis.

Not that a 4-0 deficit after 36 minutes constituted a crisis for Billy's boys, but in a typically tight Origin contest it was a massive boost for the Maroons to hit the scoreboard before half-time.

Debutant Selwyn Cobbo shapes up to set up his side's first points of the night.
Debutant Selwyn Cobbo shapes up to set up his side's first points of the night. ©NRL Photos

The confidence Queensland took from that late strike was on show with two early ones in the second term as DCE bamboozled the Blues from a scrum-base play and Holmes added to his impressive Origin CV with a 10th try in his 11th game.

All the while Cobbo grew in confidence, coming in for the tough carries to rack up a respectable 146 run metres, and staying out when the situation demanded. 

And all the while belief grew in the Maroons camp that a five-year Sydney drought would be broken, that Slater would get one over his fellow Origin legend Fittler.

And he hadn't even needed an air raid to do it.

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