State of Origin: Blues' dynasty hits roadblock
IT WAS meant to be the beginning of a Blues' dynasty.
Young, talented and seemingly galvanised, NSW's 2017 Origin side was expected to pick up the torch and carry it forward from an ageing, battle-weary Queensland outfit bereft of stars in Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Matt Scott and the departing Johnathan Thurston.
But the Maroons had other ideas and whether it was a repeat of a second-half display in game two Blues' great Andrew Johns labelled "dumb football”, or the mythical Queensland spirit, New South Wales was never truly in the game.
Outclassed defensively and lacking creativity in attack, former Blue and assistant coach Anthony Laffranchi said the side had probably saved their worst performance for last, and on the evidence, it's hard to disagree.
Drawing on the fact the Maroons stepped up to claw the series back from the jaws of defeat in a 10-minute period in game two, Laffranchi said Queensland simply stepped up to control the decider.
"From Cameron Smith at dummy-half, and the likes of Cooper (Cronk) and (Billy) Slater around, they just fill them with energy and that's what Queensland does,” he said on the Radio 97 breakfast show.
"They showed their class again and got the series done.”
Looking for their first series win since 2014 and just a second since 2005, the Blues made history by naming the same side for three consecutive matches in the series, while praising their two Kingscliff camps, which coach Laurie Daley labelled the "ideal preparation”.
Escaping the Sydney cold for a warm and sunny Tweed Coast, the Blues were confident the side, loaded with a fearsome forward pack of Andrew Fifita, David Klemmer, Aaron Woods and Jake Trbojevic, and stars in Mitchell Pearce and Jarryd Hayne, would be able to get the job done.
Pearce said the side had the ingredients to defeat Queensland, but they were unable to serve it up as Hayne was barely spotted, Woods lacked intensity in defence, Fifita was frustrated and Pearce struggled to impact on the game.
Pearce's scapegoat tag will only be worn more prominently after his 17 Origin games over a decade failed to deliver NSW a series win.
On the other side of the pitch, Queensland played with the heart and intensity for which they are famous.
Expected to be drawing the curtain on a dynasty that's delivered 11 of the last 12 series' wins, Queensland had other ideas with Generation Next fitting seamlessly into the fold.
Dane Gagai ran for a staggering 561 metres across the three games to win the Wally Lewis medal for man of the series, Valentine Homes crossed for three tries, and makeshift five-eighth Cameron Muster looked like a seasoned pro at Origin level despite game three signalling his Maroons debut. It's a worrying sign moving forward for NSW, who most expected to create Origin's next great dynasty.
"It looks like they (Queensland) will be a strong team moving forward. Everyone was thinking the opposite for once those big guys fall away,” Laffranchi said.
"But you surround those key guys with a lot of energy, then your Wallaces, Munsters and guys like that are going to be a force to be reckoned with for many more years to come.”