Queensland wrested back Residents interstate Rugby League bragging rights, holding off a second half comeback by the VB NSW Cup Representative Side to prevail 24-16 at Suncorp Stadium in a worthy curtain-raiser to State of Origin III.
After a controlled, mistake-free opening from both sides, Queensland struck first on the scoreboard when centre Aaron Whitchurch took a brilliant grab from a cross-field kick on the NSW try-line to dot down. Five-eighth Shaun Nona converted from handy position for an early 6-0 lead.
The Maroons piled on the pressure, with Davin Crampton narrowly denied a try after knocking on a grubber in the NSW in-goal following tardy work by Blues fullback Nathan Gardner. The Blues soon settled into a rhythm though, levelling out the territory advantage through prop Jack Buchanan’s strong charges and boom Canberra halfback Mitch Cornish’s pinpoint kicking game.
Flame-haired Queensland backrower Dane Hogan left the field 15 minutes into the game after receiving a heavy knock, but the interruption favoured the home side as Nona’s clever grubber sat up perfectly for Blake Leary to score.
NSW’s first legitimate scoring chance came from slick backline passing that put Chanel Mata’utia into open space down the left flank, but the Newcastle winger’s centring kick was cleaned up by Nona on the Maroons’ line. In the Blues’ next set, Mark Nicholls put down a tough offload that would have seen him open their account, while Queensland winger Javid Bowen was unable to handle a gift-wrapped scoring opportunity at the other end shortly afterwards.
Leary started to create havoc on the left edge running off Nona, but desperate last-ditch defence saved NSW from falling further behind and Mata’utia powered over for the visitors’ belated first try in the 27th minute. Recently signed by the Sydney Roosters and turning out for Newtown in the NSW Cup, winger Nathan Stapleton curled the conversion in from the sideline to reduce the gap to six points.
But an error in the ensuing set and a subsequent penalty put NSW back under the pump, allowing Whitchurch to reach out for his second try of the night from close range, while Nona converted from wide out to set up an 18-6 scoreline.
Gardner unleashed his blinding pace in the closing minutes of the half, making a searing 50-metre break – but he was rounded up by opposing No.1, wiry try-machine Henare Wells, who bundled the speedster into touch with an outstanding cover tackle.
NSW applied the early pressure after the break, but Queensland’s defence held steadfast and several sets inside the Maroons’ red-zone ended in simple turnovers. The hosts took a giant step towards victory against the run of play as winger Javid Bowen scored a dazzling 70-metre kick-return try, displaying similar traits of casual brilliance that his famous uncle, Cowboys legend Matt, was famous for.
The Blues hit back with a much-needed try in the 55th minute after giant Sydney Roosters rookie Willis Meehan combined with Gardner to send Penrith centre Isaah Yeo over. But they could not maintain the momentum shift and were hemmed in down by their own line again within minutes thanks to unforced errors and quality kicking by the Maroons’ playmakers.
Mata’utia dragged the Blues back into contention with 11 minutes on the clock, however, superbly dragging in a pass that went behind him before planting the ball in the corner for his second try with only centimetres to spare. But Stapleton hooked the touchline conversion attempt to leave a crucial eight-point buffer in Queensland’s favour.
Backrower Lachlan Burr made a powerful bust for NSW in the ensuing set, but the supporting Gardner was cut down by Wells just short of the try-line; Wells’ heroics were undone by his overzealous work in the tackle though, and he was inevitably sent to the sin-bin for the remaining eight minutes of the match.
Kalifa Faifai Loa slipped into the 12-man Maroons’ fullback role and made a try-saving tackle on runaway NSW hooker Mitch Williams, while a contentious forward pass call inside the final three minutes denied the Blues’ fourth touchdown and a grandstand finish.
Despite his late indiscretion, Wells was a standout for the Maroons, while Nona, Leary and halfback Todd Murphy impressed throughout. For the NSW Cup side, Gardner and halves Cornish and Jack Ahearn were busy all evening, and prop duo Sam Anderson and Jack Buchanan were strong up front.
The jubilant Queensland Residents celebrated a deserved win, atoning for their 22-18 loss in Sydney last year.
Queensland Residents 24 (Whitchurch 2, Leary, Bowen tries; Nona 4 goals) defeated VB New South Wales Cup Representative Side 16 (Mata’utia 2, Yeo tries; Stapleton 2 goals) at Suncorp Stadium, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Halftime: Qld 18-6. Goalkickers: Nona (Qld) 4 from 4; Stapleton (NSW) 2 from 3. Referee: Clatyon Sharpe. Assistant Referee: Peter Gough. Touch Judges: Steve Kanowski & Peter Anderson.
WHEN THEY SCORED
5 min: Queensland 6-0 (Whitchurch try, Nona goal)
17 min: Queensland 12-0 (Leary try, Nona goal)
27 min: Queensland 12-6 (Mata’utia try, Stapleton goal)
32 min: Queensland 18-6 (Whitchurch try, Nona goal)
51 min: Queenlsand 24-6 (Bowen try, Nona goal)
55 min: Queensland 24-12 (Yeo try, Stapleton goal)
69 min: Queensland 24-16 (Mata’utia try)
1. Henare Wells (Burleigh)
2. Javid Bowen (Northern Pride)
3. Aaron Whitchurch (Redcliffe)
4. David Crampton (Northern Pride)
5. Kalifa Faifai Loa (Tweed Heads)
6. Shaun Nona (Northern Pride)
7. Todd Murphy (Norths Devils)
8. Pele Peletelese (Tweed Heads)
9. Kurt Baptiste (Souths Logan)
10. Tim Natusch (Wynnum Manly)
11. Blake Leary (Northern Pride)
12. Dane Hogan (Easts Tigers)
13. Keiron Lander (Ipswich)
14. Luke Page (Souths Logan)
15. Felise Kaufusi (Easts Tigers)
16. Rod Griffin (Ipswich)
17. Mitchell Frei (Wynnum Manly)
18th man: Ben Cronin (Wynnum Manly)
Coach: Jason Demetriou (Northern Pride)
VB New South Wales Cup Representative Side
1. Nathan Gardner (Cronulla)
2. Chanel Mata’utia (Newcastle)
3. Isaah Yeo (Penrith)
4. Waqa Blake (Penrith)
5. Nathan Stapleton (Newtown/Sydney Roosters)
6. Jack Ahearn (Mounties/Canberra)
7. Mitch Cornish (Mounties/Canberra)
8. Sam Anderson (Penrith)
9. Mitch Williams (Wyong)
10. Jack Buchanan (Wests Tigers)
11. Lachlan Burr (Canterbury-Bankstown)
12. Jake Foster (Mounties/Canberra)
13. Daniel Harrison (Manly Warringah)
14. Tyler Randell (Newcastle)
15. Willis Meehan (Newtown/Sydney Roosters)
16. Mark Nicholls (Mounties/Canberra)
17. Nathan Brown (Wests Tigers)
18th man: Magnus Stromquist (Wyong)
Coach: Jason Taylor (Sydney Roosters)