Queensland Maroons will head to Suncorp Stadium on June 21 looking to wrap up the series after defying the odds late to overcome the Blues 26-18 at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night.
The Maroons trailed by two with six minutes left and despite being down a man in the sin-bin, Cameron Munster and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow combined down the Blues left edge to snatch an unlikely 1-0 series lead.
Tabuai-Fidow, who finished the match with a double, backed up Billy Slater's decision to pick the Dolphins fullback over veteran Dane Gagai with a mammoth effort that included the match-winner.
Queensland's victory was built on effort with multiple try-saving tackles throughout the clash before a freak play from Lindsay Collins, who leaped above Roosters teammate James Tedesco to set up Munster for an unbeatable eight-point lead.
The Maroons were forced to win without Tom Gilbert (shoulder), Selwyn Cobbo (hip) and Murray Taulagi (head knock) in the final stages as the Blues struggled throughout the evening in attack, while their defence was questionable.
This is very special
NSW's backline struggled to contain the Maroons on the edges with Josh Addo-Carr and Tom Trbojevic failing to inject themselves into the game. Addo-Carr, who was recalled, was burnt by Tabuai-Fidow late while Trbojevic looked uneasy.
Earlier, the Maroons took a 10-6 lead into half-time after tries to Tabuai-Fidow and Cobbo early before Liam Martin provided the spark for NSW to get on the board.
A perfect start for the Maroons
A try out of nowhere to Api Koroisau in the 44th minute, who pounced on a Valentine Holmes offload, cost the Maroons with the Blues hooker cleaning up the loose ball to stroll over four minutes after the break to get NSW in front.
Queensland took advantage of a similiar error from Tevita Pangai Junior, who attempted to offload the ball which was scooped up by Reuben Cotter and allowed the Maroons so strike again through Cobbo on the right edge.
NSW were back in front with 14 minutes to go when Penrith's combination proved pivotal for the Blues with Nathan Cleary providing a kick for Stephen Crichton to pounce out wide.
The sin-binning of Tom Flegler for a high shot on Trbojevic in the 69th minute put the Maroons down a man but the Blues couldn't capitalise with short dropout allowing Billy Slater's side to march back upfield.
Earlier, three penalties inside six minutes created a stop-start opening for both sides as Blues debutants Tevita Pangai Junior and Hudson Young got into the action early while Reece Walsh was tested under the high ball immediately.
Martin flies through the gap
Queensland struck first through Tabuai-Fidow when Munster placed a pinpoint grubber kick that split Trbojevic and Addo-Carr on the edge in the eighth minute.
The Maroons went back-to-back when Young was penalised for a two-man strip which enabled more field position for Cobbo to take advantage of opposite number Brian To'o slipping over in the defensive line to cross out wide.
A game-ending injury to Gilbert, who dislocated his shoulder in the 18th minute, was further drama-filled with the Maroons penalised for having 14 players on the field while an interchange was being made.
For all of the possession and territory NSW started to create though they were denied twice by try-savers from Taulagi on James Tedesco and Tyson Frizell to further frustrate Brad Fitter's side.
The injection of the Blues bench - Martin, Junior Paulo and Cameron Murray - sparked NSW into points with Martin running off Jarome Luai to the line on the left edge.
A head injury assessment for David Fifita added to Queensland's injury woes but NSW couldn't capitalise before the break as the Maroons again denied the Blues with last-ditch defensive efforts.
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 1 -
Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
- Queensland coach Billy Slater opted for two changes to start the clash with Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Reuben Cotter promoted to the run-on side, moving Lindsay Collins and Thomas Flegler to the bench.
- NSW enjoyed 56 per cent of possession in the opening half but trailed 10-0 with Queensland striking twice early before denying the Blues with two try-saving efforts.
- Tevita Pangai Junior was busy early with five carries and 46 metres in his opening stint on debut but let himself down with a loose pass that enabled the Maroons to snatch the lead shortly after.
- Queensland lost Tom Gilbert (dislocated shoulder) in the 18th minute while David Fifita also spent 15 minutes off the field for a head injury assessment in the first half.
- Cobbo (hip) and Murray Taulagi (head knock) failed to finish the match for the Maroons while Tom Trbojevic suffered a Category 1 concussion.
- Selwyn Cobbo (10th minute), Liam Martin (31st minute) and Stephen Crichton (66th minute) crossed for their first Origin tries.
Selwyn slides for his second
- Reuben Cotter was placed on report for an alleged crusher tackle on Josh Addo-Carr in the 52nd minute while Tom Flegler was also cited for a high tackle on Tom Trbojevic.
- Queensland have not given up a half-time lead since 2014.
- The Adelaide Oval crowd figure was 48,613.
- Rival captains Daly Cherry-Evans and James Tedesco achieved the milestone of 20 State of Origin appearances in the opening game.
- Blues debutant Nicho Hynes got on the field in the 69th minute, replacing Tom Trbojevic in the centres.
- Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow crossed for the first double of his Origin career with his two-try effort in the win.
- Patrick Carrigan (140 metres), Tino Fa'asuamaleaui (117 metres), Lindsay Collins (115 metres) and David Fifita (113 metres) led the way for the Maroons.
- James Tedesco (209 metres) and Brian To'o (201 metres) provided the yardage for the Blues, who finished the match with 53 percent of the ball.
- Both sides missed 39 tackles but the Maroons' kicking game was far more superior with 761 kicking metres to the Blues' 491.
Play of the game
Murray Taulagi has made 24 tackles all season long for the Cowboys, missing nine, but for Queensland he delivered two of the best try-savers to help guide the Maroons to victory.
The Maroons put up the wall
What they said
"It's so good to get the win, the way we stuck in it and held on in that second half. We spoke about our cyclone and staying in the fight and keep turning up for each other." - Player of the match, Maroons forward Reuben Cotter.
"It was everything and more. As a kid you dream of putting on a Maroons jersey. There were nerves today but glad to get the win. Everyone's going to question myself but Billy is a good coach and he has the trust in me. They didn't need me to do anything more or less, just my job. Every session he pulled me in and gave me advice." - Maroons fullback Reece Walsh.
"Once we got back into the game we felt good going into the last 10 minutes and then just let it slip. They had some good try-saving efforts and took their chances and executed well. I thought with 10 minutes to go and them being a man down we had our chance and could grind out a win but some of their big players come up with some big plays. That's Origin footy, it will come down to the last 10 minutes and big moments. We won twice in Queensland a few years ago so it's not over yet. It's not ideal to lose the first game but we've got two games to go. If we win at Suncorp we bring the game home for the last one." - NSW captain James Tedesco.
Blues: Game 1
All eyes will move to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane for Game Two on June 21. In between then, players will return to their clubs for at least two NRL games before the next interstate battle. The Sea Eagles have the bye with Tom Trbojevic (head knock) to be monitored ahead of Round 15. Tom Gilbert (shoulder) was already going to be rested for the Dolphins with scans to determine the severity of his injury. Murray Taulagi (head knock) and Selwyn Cobbo (hip) will also need to be checked on by their NRL clubs.