The most eagerly anticipated Wednesday night of the year had arrived as the crowd packed into the Townsville Queensland Country Bank Stadium, TV’s across the Antipodes were switched on, cold tinnies were opened, and the World settled back to be royally entertained by the opening State of Origin encounter between New South Wales and Queensland as the 2021 series got underway.
Queensland regained the shield in 2020 after losing out to New South Wales in the previous two seasons but it was the Blues who were strong favourites with the bookies, despite the Maroons being at home in front of a deeply partisan crowd.
There was only one real certainty, it was going to be a sensational game.
An early penalty for a shepherd by Daly Cherry-Evans gave the Blues the perfect opportunity to open the scoring and on nine minutes Nathan Cleary slotted the ball between the uprights for a 2-0 lead.
An obstruction by Kyle Feldt on Addo-Carr gifted the Blues a set of six just ten from the Maroons line and two plays into the set Tom ‘Turbo’ Trbojevic ran the angle to go in from ten metres out. Cleary made no mistake with the conversion, the Blues 8-0 ahead on nineteen minutes.
The Blues turned defence into attack on twenty-two with a sensational Damien Cook break before, on the next play, Jarome Luai found Brian To’o in the clear to go the last ten and dive over in the corner. Latrell Mitchell took over the conversion duties as Cleary received treatment to a cut cheek and made sure despite the difficultly of the kick.
Three minutes later and To’o was in again for a short range try off a long miss-out pass from Tariq Sims as Queensland struggled to get into the game. The Blues were in scintillating form and when Cleary swung the touchline coversion between the posts it was 20-0 and already slipping away from the Maroons, the crowd eerily quiet.
Six minutes from the interval the Maroons finally got on the board when a Cam Munster pass found Kurt Capewell who evaded the tackle of Tom Trbojevic before going in from twenty metres. Valentine Holmes added the conversion from wide to reduce the arrears and give Queensland some hope.
Just under nine minutes were on the second half clock when Mitchell collected a delightful Trbojevic grubber kick to dive over from two metres out. Cleary added the conversion to give the Blues a 26-6 lead.
NSW were carving Queensland apart. On fifty-eight a great break from Luai saw him make forty metres before quick hands from Mitchell into the path of Trbojevic for his to cross for his second of the night. When Cleary added the conversion for 32-6 on the hour mark it was game over and now down to the size of the margin.
Mitchell completed his brace on sixty-one when a Cleary kick was claimed by the centre to evade the tacklers and go over. Another sensational Cleary conversion made it 38-6.
It had been a devastating five-minute spell when Saifiti crashed over under the sticks as the Maroons defence were unable to defend their line. Cleary added his seventh goal of the game as the home side visibly tired.
Magical hands from the Blues brought up the fifty. A Cleary break and some delightful passing, notably a backhand pass from James Tedesco went to Tom Trbojevic to complete his hat-trick. Cleary added the conversion for 50-6.
Despite having the support of ninety-five percent of the crowd, this was a nightmare of an evening for the Maroons as they were methodically dismantled by a Blues side which was running lava hot. The backs shared seven tries between them in a fifty-point haul which will have the Queensland players dreading the second match in a couple of weeks’ time. The Blues were simply awesome and more than lived up to the bookies ‘favourites’ tag.
Queensland: Holmes (G), Coates, Capewell (T), Gagai, Feldt, Munster, Cherry-Evans, Welch, Grant, Fa’asuamaleaui, Kaufusi, Fifita, Arrow. Subs: Brimson, Su’A, Fotuaika, Ofahengaue. 18th Man: Hunt.
New South Wales: Tedesco, To’o (2T), Mitchell (2T, G), Trbojevic T (3T), Addo-Carr, Luai, Cleary (8G), Saifiti (T), Cook, Trbojevic J, Murray, Sims, Yeo. Subs: Wighton, Paulo, Haas, Martin. 18th Man: Koroisau.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.
Score Progression: 0-2, 0-6, 0-8, 12-0, 14-0, 18-0, 20-0, 4-20, 6-20 : HT : 6-24, 6-26, 6-30, 6-32, 6-36, 6-38, 6-42, 6-44, 6-48, 6-50 : FT.