Queensland centre Dane Gagai admits he may have overstepped the mark after trading punches with Blues counterpart Matt Burton during Wednesday night's gripping Origin decider.
However, he has no regrets and his Maroons teammates say it helped inspire them to victory.
Gagai and Burton were sin-binned after an explosive start to the second half and while both teams had to work harder for the 10 minutes they were a man down, Queensland players said Gagai’s actions had a decisive flow-on effect — spurring them towards a stunning 22-12 series win at Suncorp Stadium.
“That was just about looking after your mate,” Gagai said. “I saw him run over the top of KP so I just wasn’t going to let it slide and he wasn’t going to let me, I guess, try to bully him like that, so he came at me.
"It was just on after that. It is Origin and I have no hard feelings towards him. He seems like a good bloke and I’ve always said that anything that happens on the field stays on the field.
“If it goes the other way and one of their big boys grabs me and bashes me I wouldn’t have a sour feeling towards them because they would just be sticking up for their mates.”
With referees instructed to sin bin any player who throws a punch, fighting has virtually been eradicated from the NRL, but Gagai said he had taken a calculated risk because it was Origin.
“I kind of just thought, ‘f--- it, it’s Origin,” Gagai said. “It is standing up for your mate, and standing up for yourself.
“I knew that even though I got sent the boys weren’t going to let me down and when I came back on, I had a job to do. They showed a lot of courage out there. I couldn’t be more proud to be a Queenslander.”
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Maroons hooker Ben Hunt, who sealed the 22-12 win with a 70-metre try two minutes before full-time, said the incident had lifted the Queensland players as they battled to overcome the loss of Selwyn Cobbo and Lindsay Collins in the opening four minutes.
“It is kind of a funny one these days. You turn around and they are throwing punches and you think 'well, they are definitely going off, so we are going to have to work harder for a bit while we are down to 12 players',” Hunt said.
“But it also obviously gets the other boys a bit fired up. As a half you sort of get a bit worried, you go around and tell the forwards just to be smart and not buy into it because you don’t want to lose any more but that is sort of what Origin is about.
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“It was just passion, there were a lot of aggressive boys out there going hard at each other. It was great stuff.”
Gagai had taken umbrage earlier in the match with Blues five-eighth Jarome Luai after he stood over a heavily concussed Cobbo, whose head caught the hip of team-mate Pat Carrigan as they made a tackle together in just the second minute.
A veteran of 21 Origins, Gagai crouched over Cobbo as he lay prone on the ground to protect the winger from a melee that erupted above him as Maroons players charged at Luai.
He compared the incident to one involving Queensland team-mate Jai Arrow after NSW captain James Tedesco was knocked out in the 2020 series decider at Suncorp Stadium.
"I knew it was bad," Gagai said. "He locked up and there were bodies all around.
“A couple of years back Jai Arrow was scrutinised for what he did to Tedesco. Speaking to Jai, he wishes he could have had his time back. As soon as he did it, he knew he’d stuffed up.
"Luai is a good man away from the field. There’s a line you don’t cross and I’m sure if Luai had his time back, he might not have said what he said.
“As passionate and aggressive as both teams are, there was still a duty of care. That is someone’s son. That is someone’s grandson.
"At the end of the day a few NSW boys were taking his mouth guard out. To see those Blues players show that care, that’s what it is about."