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Game on: Remembering NSW’s only 3 Series ‘revivals’

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A lacklustre showing against ‘Billy’s Kids‘ in the series opener has New South Wales staring down a series defeat. Mat Barnes details how their only way out is through a performance of historic significance.

History and momentum are firmly in Queensland’s favour following their enemy territory ambush in Game One. While the series is yet to be decided, the past four decades indicate that New South Wales will require something truly special in if they have any chance of retaining the Shield. 

Since the inception of the three-match series in 1982, the state that loses Game One has only gone on to win the series on nine occasions. What makes matters worse for NSW is they only account for three of these nine turnarounds. Only twice have they achieved this with a win at Lang Park in Game Three – once again this year’s venue of a potential decider.

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One trait synonymous in all three of New South Wales’ revivals is an emphatic Game Two performance in that levelled the series and provided the impetus for an overwhelming momentum shift en route to victory in Game Three. Let us take a look back at these iconic performances the Blues will be looking to channel in 2022 if they are to create their own slice of history… 

1994 – Blues Whitewash at the ‘G’ 

New South Wales endured a devastating final minute loss at home in Game One thanks to the most iconic try in Origin history. When Mark Coyne ducked and stretched his way to the line for his ‘miracle try’ it completed a sixty-metre ad-lib play that passed through nine pairs of hands and included two full shifts of the field. A play born from desperation and encapsulating the Queensland spirit, it capped-off an eight point comeback in the space of five minutes. 

The Blues ventured to Victoria for Game 2 determined to make amends for their late defensive lapse. It was the first Origin played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and coach Gus Gould’s game plan was simple – pressure the Queensland ball carriers and hold ‘them’ out at all cost. Man of the Match Paul Harragon led the way throughout the early exchanges, relentlessly charging out of the line and bruising the opposition at every opportunity. The rest of the team followed suit and gained the ascendancy by forcing the Maroons into cheap turnovers of possession through errors and ill-fated kicks.

New South Wales capitalised and took control with Ricky Stuart’s prodigious kicking game, with their elite forward pack laying the platform for their crafty spine and explosive backline to pick apart the Maroons defence – sweeping backline movements and deft passing, the latter producing their only tries of the night to Glenn Lazarus and Paul McGregor. Queensland came at them hard in the dying stages in a vain attempt to reproduce the Origin I miracle, but the New South Wales defence scrambled and held firm on their line to keep the Maroons scoreless for just the second time in Origin history. The 14-nil scoreline in front of an Australian Rugby League record crowd of 87,161 people perhaps not paying justice to their overall dominance on the night. 

New South Wales would take this momentum into Game Three by beating Queensland 27-12 at Lang Park – handing them their heaviest defeat at home in the process. Ben Elias played a Man of the Match hand in what was his 22nd and final Origin.

2005 – Joey’s Return 

New South Wales again suffered a devastating defeat in Game One of the series losing 24-20 in Golden Point at Lang Park. They fought back from a 19-nil deficit after fifty minutes to retake the lead 20-19, before a late Johnathan Thurston field goal and Matty Bowen intercept try off an infamous Brett Kimmorley pass saw Queensland finish 24-20 victors.

Kimmorley was overlooked for Game Two and with injuries to their remaining halfback stocks, coach Ricky Stuart sent out an SOS to 31-year-old Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns who had played just six competitive matches in fifteen months due to a torn ACL and badly broken jaw. These injury setbacks and average form at club level had Joey entering the game questioning whether he had what it took to still compete at the NRL level, let alone in the fiercest arena of professional rugby league. But what followed is now part of State of Origin folklore. 

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Johns put on a playmaker’s masterclass providing a hand in all five tries for NSW; two line breaks, three conversions from acute angles, and 445 kick metres that included a spectacular long range try assist and booming 40/20 that broke the game open in the second half. Two late Queensland tries added respectability to the scoreline but they were never in the contest once Johns exploded in the second half – the Blues finishing 32-22 winners.

Joey’s career defining performance spurred New South Wales onto an even more dominant 22-point victory in Game 3 back at Lang Park. In an eerie similarity with 1994, they again resigned the Maroons to three successive series defeats and their worst home loss in the process.

2019 – Tommy Turbo Comes of Age in Perth

New South Wales blew another lead in Game One as a fast-finishing Queensland side capitalised on their ill-discipline to finish 18-14 winners. Coach Brad Fittler made a raft of changes to his underperforming backline for Game Two which included the recall of 22-year-old Tom Trbojevic who had recently recovered from a hamstring injury. The Manly phenom provided a handy contribution on the wing in his debut series a year earlier, but Fittler this time moved him closer to the action at centre. ‘Turbo’ was ready to announce himself in a huge way.

State of Origin was welcomed in Perth for the first time by a huge crowd of 59,721 people hopeful of a typically enthralling Origin contest. Instead, they were treated to a dominant Blues display as they recorded their largest victory in nineteen years thanks in part to the electrifying Trbojevic.

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He played with a ‘licence to roam’ and took full advantage. After being held up over the line on the right edge in the 4th minute, Tom appeared four minutes later on the left when he leapt above Queensland fullback Kalyn Ponga and collected a towering James Maloney bomb to open the scoring. For the remainder of the game he followed the ball, sniffing out every opportunity to bust the game wide open. His desire to imprint his influence on the contest resulted in two more tries, as he bobbed up in support of breaks made by his Captain James Tedesco. Both played starring roles in New South Wales’ 38-6 decimation of Queensland on a wet night on the west coast.

The belief earned from such a comprehensive victory reaped dividends for the Blues back home as they snatched a dramatic final minute win in Game Three. The scores were locked at 20-all before a left-to-right shift from deep inside their own half resulted in a bust down the right touchline and a try to Man of the Series James Tedesco. New South Wales won 26-20, gave Queensland a taste of their own medicine and recorded consecutive series victories for the first time since Joey’s return in 2005.

All occurrences of a New South Wales fightback have shared parallels to the one before, so it might be considered fanciful to highlight the similarities of Perth hosting Game 2 and that wins in the remaining two fixtures will mark consecutive series victories – just like 2019. While that might be far fetched, one thing for certain is New South Wales will require one momentous performance to make it happen. 

Mat Barnes
Mat Barnes
A self-confessed sports nerd who would spit the dummy as a kid on family beach days so he could stay home to watch the cricket - Mat has lived and breathed sport his entire life. Following a three year stint as a Sports Statistician with Fox Sports Australia, he has since enjoyed an extended period in the golf industry helping grow the game he has loved since he was a kid. While Mat loves golf amongst many other sports and codes, his passion for the NRL and the Newcastle Knights is borderline obsessive!

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