Queensland have won the 2016 State of Origin Series with a pulsating 26-16 victory over New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
The Blues had the better of the first half and kept fighting their way back into the contest but they were unable to muster the resilience that has been the hallmark of this champion Queensland team when repeated errors turned the Origin blowtorch onto the NSW defence.
When Dane Gagai scored the third of his three tries to take the Maroons out to a 20-10 advantage 18 minutes from full-time another blowout scoreline at Suncorp was on the cards but it wasn't until Corey Oates scored his first Origin try eight minutes from full-time that the result – and the series – was settled.
Often the Blues were brilliant but for the three good things they would throw at Queensland they'd come up with a negative to undermine any of their good work and keep the Maroons clinging to the contest.
"Queensland are good enough without gifting them stuff like this," Phil Gould admonished in Channel Nine commentary.
But the inner belief that this champion Queensland team has fostered over the past decade was always going to be the greatest hurdle to the Blues' sending it to a decider in Game Three and so it proved.
Their unbreakable bond and unshakeable belief was again the over-riding difference between two teams evenly matched in skill but poles apart in the intangibles that turn great players into sporting icons.
Making matters worse for the Blues was a shoulder injury that sidelined Adam Reynolds for the final portion of the game and has the halfback in serious doubt for Game Three.
The Blues showed their hand with their first set of the game, running it on the last before a Dylan Walker grubber bounced end over end over the dead-ball line but a Cameron Smith line break and Johnathan Thurston grubber seven tackles later earned the drop-out for the Maroons that NSW would desperately have loved so early in the contest.
Greg Inglis's third touch inside the opening five minutes lured Walker into a desperate tackle before his former South Sydney teammate had gained possession, Thurston coolly slotting a penalty goal from 18 metres out to the left of the posts for the game's opening points.
With only 35 per cent possession in the first 10 minutes the Blues levelled up courtesy of an Adam Reynolds penalty goal on the back of a bust by Aaron Woods and a powerful first Origin charge from impressive debutant Tyson Frizell that put Smith on his backside.
Buoyed after absorbing early pressure and playing off the back of quick play-the-balls the Blues again pushed into Queensland territory and were rewarded with a second penalty goal when Paul Gallen was put in a dangerous position by Sam Thaiday who was subsequently placed on report.
Any ascendancy the Blues had worked hard to earn midway through the first half was undone by four penalties in quick succession that allowed Thurston to eventually square the ledger but again just as the Blues were getting on top a Reynolds kick into the in-goal went long and gifted Queensland crucial tackles and territory.
The first try of the game again came with NSW on the attack but unfortunately for Blues supporters the four points was awarded 90 metres at the other end of the field when Dane Gagai snared a pushed pass by Michael Jennings on the last tackle and ran the length of the field.
A brave chase and ankle tap from Frizell brought Gagai to the ground but he was able to slide over just inside the corner post before Blake Ferguson could push him into touch, Thurston curling in the conversion from the sideline for a 10-4 advantage.
Another brain explosion six minutes after the break when a pressure pass from David Klemmer gave Andrew Fifita little chance of holding onto the football allowed Queensland to start a set inside the Blues' half and they finished it with Gagai's second try courtesy of a spectacular one-handed grab above his head before diving over in the corner.
Even when it went wrong for the Maroons – as it did when Smith was almost caught in possession on the last tackle shortly afterwards – the men around him swarmed in support; Michael Morgan, Sam Thaiday and Thurston pushing Matt Moylan back into the in-goal to turn the screws of the Blues' Origin coffin just that little bit more.
Time and again the Maroons' chief playmakers parlayed one NSW mistake into a repeat set or better still points, Thurston's perfectly weighted chip kick into the in-goal leading to Gagai's third try at the end of the next set of six, swooping through on another piece of Thurston wizardry in the 62nd minute.
The Blues took advantage of a penalty for Matt Moylan being run off the ball to strike back sharply through Frizell 15 minutes into the second half and James Maloney stole back Gagai's earlier intercept effort to get the Blues back within four points but they were cruelly denied a chance to hit the front when the fingertips of Michael Jennings propelled the ball forward in the Queensland in-goal when all he needed to do was push it down into the turf.
And as they had done all game, Queensland gratefully accepted possession on the 20-metre line, forced Blake Ferguson into an error at the other end and scored the clincher through Oates eight minutes from full-time.
Queensland Maroons 26 (Dane Gagai 3, Corey Oates tries; Johnathan Thurston 5 goals) def. New South Wales Blues 16 (Tyson Frizell, James Maloney tries; Adam Reynolds 3, Maloney goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 52,293. Half-time: Queensland 10-4. On report: Sam Thaiday (Maroons, lifting tackle). Under-18s: NSW 26 def. Queensland 0.
First published on NRL.com