State of Origin: Blues blunders put Brad Fittler in firing line after Queensland heroics
1 June, 2023, 7:48 am
Brad Fittler will have 80 minutes to coach for his job behind enemy lines after the Blues’ game one gambles backfired in the face of one of the gutsiest Queensland victories in State of Origin history.
The Maroons finished the contest with 12 men on the field and players being added to the casualty ward with every passing minute, yet still managed to beat NSW thanks to phenomenal goal-line defence and claiming the clutch moments.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow sealed the 26-18 victory in Adelaide on Wednesday when he streaked away down the right edge and left James Tedesco for dead with seven minutes to play.
When Lindsay Collins – all 194cm and 106kg of him – leapt above his Roosters captain for a bomb to send Cameron Munster over, the most famous of Maroons wins was in the bag.
And with simple NSW errors and penalties leading to three of Queensland’s five tries, they’ll fancy the shield staying in their keeping, too, with game two at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane in three weeks’ time.
Staring down consecutive series defeats, Fittler’s admirable NSW coaching career goes on the line as well, because those are simply the breaks in Origin.
The Maroons should have broken several times over. Tom Gilbert was ruled out after just 19 minutes with a dislocated shoulder.
When Collins came on to replace him, he did so before Gilbert had left the field, giving away a penalty for having 14 players out there.
Wingers Selwyn Cobbo and Murray Taulagi were both felled late in the contest. Tom Flegler had already been sin-binned by this point, too, for collecting Tom Trbojevic high, so hooker Ben Hunt defended at right centre.
Did we mention that Nathan Cleary had just slotted a clutch conversion, from just five metres inside the touchline, to put the Blues ahead 18-16 with 13 minutes to play?
But Queensland being Queensland, they refused to die. And that was the difference.
Both sides conceded the most foolish of first-half penalties. The Maroons defended theirs, the Blues didn’t.
For all the talk of old-fashioned Origin fire and brimstone, it was simple indiscretions that cruelled NSW early.
Two penalties preceded Queensland’s two opening tries, and they were the most basic infringements – an offside penalty called against rookie Tevita Pangai jnr, and stripping in a three-man tackle by fellow debutant Hudson Young.
The Maroons’ first raid, off the back of Pangai being pinged, bore instant fruit, Munster putting a 6-0 lead on a platter with a grubber for Tabuai-Fidow.
When Young was caught out moments later, Queensland skinned them again all too easily, Cobbo streaking away down the right edge after Brian To’o lost his footing.
The Blues’ fortunes did swing eventually, as they always do in Origin. At one point, NSW enjoyed 57 per cent of possession, but still didn’t have a point to their name.
Fittler’s faith in Penrith’s premiership-winning connection eventually delivered. Liam Martin could have started a fight in an empty room the way he came off the bench. Instead, with 13 Queenslanders to torment and 48,613 at the Adelaide Oval to entertain, the bench back-rower proved a game-breaker by throwing himself at everything that moved.
Cleary and Jarome Luai were finally able to dissect Queensland’s left-side defence for Martin to stroll through in the 32nd minute.
The Maroons held a well-deserved 10-6 lead at the break. The madness descended on them moments afterwards, Valentine Holmes attempting an ill-fated offload that Api Koroisau got his hand on, and then his boot to, scrambling his way over for a try and 12-10 lead.
In a forgettable first Origin outing that may well prove his last, Pangai then pulled the same play, forcing a pass that was never on deep in his own end.
Cobbo was sliding over for his second try a moment later, before Stephen Crichton answered in kind.
From there, down a man and losing more by the minute, Queensland kicked on. Fittler and the Blues head to Suncorp needing to do the same.