NSW v Queensland: Five Key Points
The Maroons lived up to their reputation as the kings of the comeback to steal an 18-16 win over the Blues in an epic Game Two at ANZ Stadium to level the series.
Origin is scripted
Whoever writes these scripts, we salute you. Down and out at half-time and with their champion playmaker carrying a serious shoulder injury, the Maroons – as they always do – found a way to win it. The Blues were so brave for so long, but you knew it was coming. The Maroons spent the entire second half camped on New Souths Wales' line but were repelled time and time again. That was until Michael Morgan – filling in at right centre for Will Chambers who had come off for an HIA – delivered a freakish offload for Dane Gagai to dive over for his second try of the night. In a moment reminiscent of the 2015 grand final, up stepped Thurston with the chance to be the hero. Unlike that attempted conversion, he made no mistake this time around, piloting the ball between the uprights to give his side the lead with two minutes remaining. You can't script this stuff, but someone must have. What a moment.
JTs steal the show
There is no disputing Johnathan Thurston is the greatest 'JT' to have ever played the game, but on Wednesday night, the champion Maroons halfback was upstaged for the most part by young NSW tackling-machine Jake Trbojevic. While their positions make it feel like we're trying to compare apples and oranges, the Sea Eagles lock forward was simply brilliant in a tireless opening 36-minute stint off the bench. Trbojevic ran for 107 metres, made 22 stinging tackles and laid on a gorgeous inside pass that led to the Mitchell Pearce try in a performance that came as no surprise to those who have followed his career. It was a different story for Thurston whose 300th NRL game on Saturday must be in serious doubt given he appeared to carry a shoulder injury for most of the night. It was a brave performance by the star playmaker made more spectacular by his match-winning goal. Thurston played most of the game with one arm and we can only hope the future Immortal can recover in time for his Origin farewell in three weeks.
Try-savers typify new era…almost
A few years ago, a Queensland set from close range in the dying stages of a half automatically translated into points. Not anymore. Not against this NSW team. Not on their turf. Maroons halfback Cooper Cronk looked certain to step his way through on the penultimate play of the half only to be stopped in his tracks by Jake Trbojevic who was the unsung hero in Game One when he combined with James Tedesco to somehow deny Matt Gillett. It was a huge play, but it surely would count for nothing with Queensland boasting an overlap to the left and the ball in Thurston's hands. For so long, Blues' hearts have been broken by Queenslanders strolling over with the siren blaring in the background. But not anymore. Michael Morgan looked to have provided the impact he was thrust on to deliver but it wasn't to be as Josh Dugan produced one last gut-busting play to roll his adversary onto his back to keep the ball off the ground. It meant the Blues went into the sheds with a 10-point lead and plenty of confidence; a winning combo for a youthful team looking to create their own dynasty. And while they weren't try-savers per se, Dugan saved the day twice more in the second half with huge carries off his own line when Queensland were threatening to take the lead. Unfortunately for NSW, this held true for 77 minutes; not the 80 minutes they needed to win the game and clinch the series. How will they respond in Game Three?
Not so great debut for Glasby
You have to feel sorry for Tim Glasby. They say Origin comes down to moments and unfortunately for the Storm prop, he found himself front and centre of two key plays midway through the first half. Picked for his ability to control the ruck, Glasby was caught out twice in defence in the space of three minutes as the Blues broke the game wide open with a pair of crucial four-pointers. The 28-year-old was caught out of position and Maloney knew it as he targeted the big man on the edge to set up Brett Morris and it got worse for Glasby as he over chased Jake Trbojevic who dished an inside ball to James Tedesco who found a flying Mitchell Pearce in support. He finished with 72 metres and 21 tackles from his 26 minutes on the field, but Origin games come down to moments and it's those two glaring misses that people will remember him by.
Blues have plenty of time to reflect on the one that got away
It was fitting that Wednesday night's epic should take place on the Winter Solstice. Now, as they endure the longest night of the year, the Blues must reflect on how they let that one get away from them. One game doesn’t make a series, and one series doesn't make a dynasty, but it looked like Wednesday night's result would only fuel speculation that Queensland's reign has come to an end. Instead, the champion side pulled one out of the bag to steal the win, forcing the series into a decider on their home turf. The younger, faster, stronger Blues showed that their Game One heroics were no fluke as they recovered from a slow start to dominate a side that had won 10 of the past 11 series. NSW looked in control for most of the evening but couldn't survive a second-half onslaught as the Maroons peppered their line for what felt like an eternity. The series now heads north for what will be Thurston's last game as a Maroon. If the Blues want to be the best, they must beat the best. This will be their ultimate challenge.