Trent Hodkinson celebrates the only try of the second State of Origin match. Photo: Anthony JohnsonIt’s over. NSW’s 6-4 victory in Origin II was far from pretty but Trent Hodkinson’s winning try is set to be remembered alongside John Aloisi’s goal against Uruguay as the greatest post-Olympic moment at ANZ Stadium.
After eight years of Queensland domination, NSW are finally State of Origin champions again and the players, the 83,421 crowd at the ground and the millions of Blues supporters watching on television couldn’t care less how they managed it.
For 70 minutes, it appeared as if the match would be the first try-less Origin since a Wayne Bartrim-penalty goal gave the Maroons a 2-0 victory in 1995 but Hodkinson’s show and go to beat Ben Te’o and score ended a drought for NSW that extends back to their last series win in 2005.
Blues superstar Jarryd Hayne demonstrated what it meant to the players as he raced over the army of Blues supporters sitting at the northern end at full-time and then broke into tears while being interviewed on the field. ‘‘Its been a long time, a far too long time but we fought hard,’’ Hayne said. ‘‘We have just been through so much these years and we have got so close a few times. That is what Origin is about.’’
It was clear from the way the game was played that both teams believed this was the series decider – even though there is a third match at Suncorp Stadium on July9. With so much at stake, the players adopted a conservative approach that focused on minimising opportunities for the opposition by maintaining possession in attack and slowing the play the ball in defence.
NSW completed 15 of their 20 first half sets, while the Maroons made just one error in the opening 40 minutes – a sloppy play the ball by centre Justin Hodges – but conceded six penalties to three against NSW.
Most of the 14 penalties during the match were for niggling tactics and NSW five-eighth Josh Reynolds, second-rower Anthony Watmough and Maroons playmaker Johnathan Thurston were placed on report as both teams refused to give an inch.
Aware that Queensland playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans had gone into the game carrying a knee injury that restricted him to just one full training session with the team, NSW hooker Robbie Farah was assigned the task of testing him out after every kick.
Maroons five-eighth Thurston was also targetted by NSW second-rower Beau Scott and five-eighth Josh Reynolds, while Blues skipper Paul Gallen reminded Billy Slater of the shoulder injury he suffered in Origin I when he smashed him with a swinging arm in the early exchanges.
But the concern about committing a mistake that could cost the game detracted from the standard of the match and if Origin I was one of the best Origin games, this was one of the worst.
Sure there was desperation shown by Jarryd Hayne to knock the ball out of Sam Thaiday’s hands as he crossed for what looked certain to be a try and Daniel Tupou stopped Brent Tate just short of the tryline, but the Blues did not make a single line break and only offloaded on three occasions.
Since the Blues last won an Origin series, Australia’s domination of international rugby league has ended and resumed at last year’s World Cup, Melbourne have won premierships, been stripped of them for salary cap cheating and won another legitimately and Sonny Bill Williams has walked out on the NRL, returned and is poised to leave again.
Off the field, News Limited has relinquished control of the game to the Australian Rugby League Commission, Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court have taken a majority stake in South Sydney, Nathan Tinkler has bought and lost the Newcastle Knights and the Gold Coast Titans have been admitted to the NRL premiership.Elsewhere, the smart phone has been invented, fans were able to tweet about the Blues victory for the first time. And the Socceroos have played in three World Cups.