NSW entered this year’s Origin series a red-hot favourite to go back-to-back but Queensland got an early grip and didn’t let go.
The Queensland Maroons have taken a 1-0 lead in the 2022 State of Origin series after a powerful second-half blitz at Accor Stadium in Sydney Olympic Park.
The contest ended in dramatic scenes, with the Blues peppering the opposition tryline in a nailbiting final five minutes, but the Maroons held their nerve to claim a tense 16-10 victory.
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With 80,512 fans cheering from the stands, Blues centre Jack Wighton opened the scoring with a try in the 14th minute, but it didn’t take long for the Maroons to return serve.
Young rookie Selwyn Cobbo put together a piece of magic on the right wing to give Queensland a narrow two-point lead at halftime.
And the Maroons came out firing after the interval, scoring a further two tries in quick succession to embarrass the hosts and silence the Sydney crowd.
But in a late twist, NSW forward Cameron Murray dived over with less than nine minutes on the clock to reignite the sell-out Sydney crowd and set up a thrilling finish.
The Blues were threatening to score again a couple of minutes later before a clutch steal from player of the match Cameron Munster saved the Maroons.
With seconds remaining on the clock, NSW lock Isaah Yeo came inches from scoring under the posts for the equaliser, but the siren sounded before the Blues could pull off a miracle comeback.
“That was one of the hardest games I’ve ever played,” Munster told Channel 9 after the triumph.
“I’m still trying to catch my breath.”
Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans continued: “This is the response that we wanted and any player who played last year, we wanted the chance to come back and show that the jersey means something to us.
“The series is not won but it’s a good start.”
Valentine Holmes was a stand-out performer for the Maroons, contributing a try, two goals, 156 metres, 1 line break and 3 tackle breaks.
Both sides were riddled by injury concerns throughout the contest, while the Blues were thwarted by sloppy defence and handling errors.
Queensland had not won a State of Origin match in New South Wales since 2017.
“We lost it in the period before half-time, and after half-time they came out flying and we did not respond,” NSW halfback Nathan Cleary conceded.
“We tried to move the ball a bit too much, it’s something we have to look at.”
Queensland will have an opportunity to close out the series in Perth on Sunday, June 26 at Game II.
Murray scores in late twist
It was all one-way traffic in Sydney, but the Blues have mustered a late try to keep themselves in the contest.
New South Wales forward Cameron Murray dived over with less than nine minutes left on the clock to reignite the sell-out Sydney crowd.
After Nathan Cleary nailed the conversion kick, the Blues were only trailing by six points.
It looked as though NSW would dive over again a couple of minutes later before a clutch steal from player of the match Cameron Munster saved the Maroons.
“He’s been everywhere, Munster,” Queensland great Cameron Smith said on Channel 9.
“What a game. This has had absolutely everything tonight.”
NSW are crumbling at Accor Stadium
The Blues are staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat in the Origin opener, with Queensland’s lead extending to 16-4 in the second half.
The New South Wales defence has been sloppy since the halftime break, with Maroons winger Valentine Holmes scoring in the 55th minute after receiving a cut-out pass near the sideline from fullback Kalyn Ponga.
“What a try Valentine Holmes! Queensland are dominating,” Channel 9 commentator Mathew Thompson exclaimed.
“This is very un-New South Wales like.”
DCE scores untouched
Oh deary me, what’s happened there?
Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans has scored under the posts from the back of a scrum, running through the Blues defence with a bit of footwork completely untouched.
“One of the softest tries you will see, they bamboozled the Blues,” Triple M commentator Dan Ginnane said.
Valentine Holmes slotted the conversion kick to give the Maroons a 12-4 lead and silence the Sydney crowd.
The New South Wales defence has been pretty ordinary since returning from the break.
Soon after, Kotoni Staggs returned to the sheds with a shoulder complaint while Stephen Crichton was put on a report for a dangerous “dumping” tackle on Queensland’s Cameron Munster.
Second half underway
The Maroons suffered an early setback in the second stanza, with Origin debutant Jeremiah Nanai suffering a suspected leg injury.
The teenager screamed in agony on the deck as he received treatment from team medics before being helped off the ground.
Replays suggested that Nanai’s right foot rolled under teammate Cobbo during a tackle.
He was replaced by Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
Maroons return serve with ‘miraculous try’
It hasn’t taken long for the Maroons to reduce the deficit, with Dane Gagai scoring his 12th State of Origin try in the 35th minute.
Young rookie Selwyn Cobbo put together a piece of magic on the wing, gathering up the Steeden before sprinting along the sideline and putting in a perfectly-weighted grubber for Gagai to score.
“A miraculous try for the Maroons,” Channel 9 commentator Mathew Thompson said.
“Dane Gagai, he is a try-scoring freak in these colours.”
Valentine Holmes’ conversion kick sailed between the posts to give Queensland a 6-4 lead just before halftime.
“Cobbo … no words, no words, for a kid of that age, to come up with that pick-up, with that kick, in this arena,” former St. George player Matthew Elliott said on ABC Grandstand.
A couple of minutes later, Blues forward Junior Paulo dived over to once again give New South Wales the lead, but the Bunker denied the four-pointer due to an obstruction ruling.
Blues strike first with early try
Brad Fittler’s selection gamble has paid dividends.
New South Wales have taken an early lead in Origin I, with centre Jack Wighton diving over in the 14th minute.
The Blues spread to the footy towards the left wing before Wighton barged through the Queensland defence, flopping over the tryline.
But Nathan Cleary’s conversion attempt struck the left post, giving NSW a 4-0 lead.
Soon after, Maroons winger Xavier Coates suffered a suspected ankle injury, limping near the sideline and leaving the field.
“Xavier Coates is not good, he’s done. Jeremiah Nanai is going to come on now,” former Queensland representative Wendell Sailor said on Triple M.
It was later confirmed that Coates would not return to the field.
‘Huge drama’ as Origin I gets underway
Blues fans were holding their breath when star forward Isaah Yeo landed on the wrong end of a heavy collision in the first tackle of the match.
The 27-year-old looked visibly dazed after he was knocked over by Maroons enforcer Josh Papalii seconds after kick-off.
After returning to the defensive line, he made two more tackles in the set.
“Huge drama in the first carry of Origin,” Channel 9 commentator Mathew Thompson said.
Newcastle Knights legend Andrew Johns continued: “Oh no, Isaah Yeo has stumbled.
“He is the key man for NSW, he’ll be off for a head assessment.”
But Yeo was quickly checked by the team trainer and cleared to continue by the independent doctor.
“If the independent doctor doesn’t see Isaah Yeo, I don’t know what they’re doing,” Panthers legend Ryan Girdler said on Triple M.
Kick-off is moments away
After a bizarre light show for the pre-match entertainment, the players made their way onto Accor Stadium, with Daly Cherry-Evan and the Maroons greeted by a chorus of boos from the sold-out crowd.
Both sides lined up for the Welcome to Country, delivered by Evonne Weldon, and national anthem, which was performed by Emily Nkomo.
Blues make two late changes
NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler has pulled some last minute shocks for game one, and no, it didn’t have anything to do with Stephen Crichton or Jack Wighton.
All week the rumours had swirled that Panthers centre Stephen Crichton, who was named in the 14 jersey, would move to the starting side while Raiders five eighth Wighton would shift from centre to the utility role.
But the Blues coach has thrown a curve ball that few were looking for when he revealed two changes to his starting 13.
Eels prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Panthers back rower Liam Martin have been parachuted into the starting side.
Campbell-Gillard will replace club teammate Junior Paulo, while Martin was swapped for Rabbitohs skipper Cameron Murray.
Meanwhile, Queensland coach Billy Slater has confirmed there will be no changes to the Maroons side.
Queensland’s illegal act caught out
The Maroons were in trouble before they had even left their hotel.
As revealed by Channel 9’s Peter Fagan, a City of Parramatta parking inspector was seen marking the Queensland team bus tyres and taking photos of the vehicle on Wednesday afternoon.
The bus was reportedly sitting in a 15-minute zone, and the Maroons could cop a parking infringement.
It’s never been clearer that all of New South Wales is against the Maroons tonight.
Gould’s tweet angers fans
In a disappointing revelation, Channel 9 pundit Phil Gould has confirmed on Twitter he will not perform his famous “Final Word” gee up before kick-off.
“It will be a cracking game. Don’t miss it,” he tweeted.
And to make matters worse, legendary commentator Ray Warren — also known as the Voice of Rugby League — will not be behind the microphone tonight after announcing his retirement last week.
Mathew Thompson will commentate his first State of Origin match in place of Warren.
When and where is it?
The series gets underway on Wednesday, June 8 at Accor Stadium in Sydney.
How to watch?
You can watch the game live on Channel 9. Coverage will begin at 7pm (AEST) with post-game coverage running until around 11pm.
You can then watch a replay of the match on Kayo from 11pm onwards.
What time is kick off?
Kick off is slated for 8.10pm (AEST). However, as fans are well aware, the actual start time of every Origin game turns into a contest of kick-off bingo, so it may be a touch later than the scheduled time.
Blues: 1. James Tedesco 2. Brian To’o 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Jack Wighton 5. Daniel Tupou 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Payne Haas 9. Damien Cook 16. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 12. Tariq Sims 15. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 10. Junior Paulo 11. Cameron Murray 14. Stephen Crichton 17. Ryan Matterson. 18th man: 18. Nicho Hynes
Coach: Brad Fittler
Maroons: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Selwyn Cobbo 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Dane Gagai 5. Xavier Coates 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 9. Ben Hunt 10. Josh Papalii’i 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Felise Kaufusi 13. Reuben Cotter 14. Harry Grant 15. Lindsay Collins 16. Patrick Carrigan 17. Jeremiah Nanai. 18th man: 19. Jai Arrow
Coach: Billy Slater
Fans start rolling in
Coach’s selection call questioned
Former QLD Maroons hardman Corey Parker has been left puzzled by Brad Fittler’s decision to start Stephen Crichton on the bench for the series opener.
Fittler has opted to go with Jack Wighton at centre over the premiership-winning outside back.
Many believed the call could be a smokescreen and lead to a late change, Blues adviser Greg Alexander however put those rumours to bed.
“Jack will start in the centres,” Alexander said on the Fox League podcast.
“Those rumours have been floating around since the side was announced but Jack will start in the centres.”
Former Knights player Alex McKinnon backed the decision by Fittler to go with Wighton.
“I love it,” he said.
“Jack Wighton is a player that I’d have in my team every single week. Any Origin (side) I’d pick he’d definitely be in it.
“He’s tough, he’s genuine, he competes, he’s a good ball runner and at centre, he defends in that position as a half anyway so it’s not really a great deal of difference.
“I think it’s a big ask for Crichton to debut in Origin at left centre. Dane Gagai, who he’d be up against is a really experienced player and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a bad game for Queensland.
“It’s going to be all about kick-chase, competing and carrying from your own end. I think Jack Wighton really does that well. He’s such a strong body, he’s physical and he’s a bit older.”
Parker however wasn’t having it.
“I sort of disagree … He’s a terrific player, Crichton, he really is,” he said.
“I just don’t see the value of a debutant — particularly an outside back — sitting on the bench for such a long period of time using up that nervous energy (and) how it’s going to be a positive.
“Jack is Jack and he can play anywhere but I don’t see Stephen Crichton going in at fullback if things go down — it’s just not happening — because that’s even more pressure. Interesting to see.”
“I think it’s a safe call by Freddy,” McKinnon responded before weighing in on Queensland’s “risky” call to pick 20-year-old Selwyn Cobb, who has only played 19 NRL games.
“If you look at Queensland they’ve picked Cobbo on the wing. He’s been incredible to start the season — I think that’s a massive call as well.
“I think he’ll blow them apart on Wednesday night, I really do, I think he’ll be incredible. Corey Oates was probably one of the form wingers of the competition this year.”