Josh Reynolds and Johnathan Thurston shake hands after their spiteful Origin clash. Photo: Getty ImagesWe are accustomed to seeing Queensland, when they are behind with a couple of minutes to go, showing plenty of fight. But never like this.
With eight years of dominance on the line, Johnathan Thurston – usually the man with the head for such a situation – appeared to throw a headbutt at Josh Reynolds. For once, when calm heads were required, the Maroons lost theirs. And with it their domination.
This game also proved you can eradicate the punch from State of Origin, but you can’t get rid of the niggle.
The controversial punch-and-you’re-off edict, delivered with much fanfare by NRL boss Dave Smith 12 months ago, has had the desired effect. In its place we have combatants waiting and baiting, hoping to elicit a response that will reduce the opposition to 12 players.
This game within a game meant that, in one of the most anticipated football games in Australian history, little football was played.
Jarryd Hayne celebrates their win with NSW fans. Photo: Wolter Peeters
There were ugly incidents galore. Nate Myles, often the victim, was involved in many of them. Like the time he took the opening hit-up of the second half, only to be upended by Anthony Watmough. The tackle was of the lifting variety, the very type the league had promised to clamp down on. The incident – like the Thurston one – was placed on report. But, given that Reynolds didn’t do any time for one much worse, the NRL may have painted itself into a corner.
Strictly speaking, Myles – the man on the receiving end of the Paul Gallen punch that killed the punch – could have spent 10 minutes in the bin for hitting the melon of opposing prop James Tamou. However, it would not have been in the spirit of the rule or the contest, as Myles’ soft jab came after provocation in the form of a forearm in the face. It sparked one of countless AFL-style melees in a match in which niggle and slow play-the-balls meant the attacking brilliance of the 34 best players in the game were largely stunted.
It meant that, for 71 minutes, there also were no blows landed where it hurt most, the scoreboard. There were even blow-ups between teammates – Blues captain Gallen scolded Reynolds for his decision to take a quick tap when a gift two points was on offer.
It didn’t take long for patience of the whistleblowers to be tested.
Thurston was penalised for slapping the face of Beau Scott, prompting Maroons skipper Cameron Smith to remonstrate, as only he can: ‘‘A penalty for the slap? What about the punch in the face?’’
Moments later, providing his own insight into another incident, Myles – who else – mused: ‘‘That knee to his face was pretty poor.’’
But if there was one comment that summed it all up, it came from Blues vice-captain Robbie Farah, who protested: ‘‘Youse are losing control, Shayne.’’ That came after just 10 minutes.