After overseeing a win for the ages in his first Origin series as coach, Billy Slater confirmed what nearly anyone who witnessed the brutal 22-12 triumph was thinking.
"That is as good a Queensland victory as I have ever seen," Slater said. "I don’t think I’ve been any prouder of a team I’ve been involved in.”
Slater played 31 Origins from 2004 to 2018 and was a key member of the most dominant team in the 42 years since the concept began, so he knows only too well the story of Queensland's famous spirt inspiring the underdog Maroons to victory against all odds.
However, there has never been a plot quite like the one at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
Maroons decider glory
First, the Maroons are rocked by the loss of superstar playmaker Cameron Munster and rookie winger Murray Taulagi due to COVID.
Then they are forced to play 76 minutes with 15 players after Selwyn Cobbo and Lindsay Collins were forced out of the game with head knocks in a no holds barred opening to the match.
If this wasn't Queensland’s greatest Origin win, it was at least on par with 1995 when Paul Vautin's underdogs achieved a series clean sweep, the 2011 decider in which Johnathan Thurston attended the presentation in a wheelchair and 2020's victory by the so-called worst Maroons team ever.
Only the 16-12 triumph in 1989 in which the Maroons finished with 12 players after serious injuries to Vautin, Allan Langer, Mal Meninga, Michael Hancock and Bob Lindner may rank higher.
“There is a lot of history that has gone before us and we unpacked a lot of that this week, and we just knew that based on all of those Queensland moments it was our turn to produce one," Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans said.
The Queensland halfback was in tears at fulltime at the enormity of what his side had achieved, telling Channel Nine: “We did it again”.
The Blues were poised to write their names into Origin history by becoming just the third NSW team to win a series decider at Suncorp – and the first since 1994 to do so after losing the opening game in Sydney and winning the remaining two matches away from home.
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NSW had overcome a Munster-inspired 16-10 loss in Sydney to thrash Queensland 44-12 in Perth and with the star playmaker forced to watch from the isolation of his hotel room after he and Taulagi tested positive to COVID in camp, the Maroons were largely written off.
Within four minutes of the kick-off, Cobbo and prop Lindsay Collins had joined them as spectators after being forced from field for HIAs, along with Blues second-rower Cameron Murray.
Munster's replacement, Tom Dearden, had an Origin debut to remember just 12 months after his mid-year departure from the Broncos, while fullback Kalyn Ponga was outstanding.
Interchange forward Tom Gilbert played 78 minutes on debut after being called on when Cobbo went down, with Kurt Capewell shifting to the centres in a move that proved a masterstroke after he scored on the last tackle before halftime.
Ponga with the quick feet and a superb try
Cherry-Evans and hooker Ben Hunt guided the Maroons home, with the latter producing a 40:20 kick in the second half and scoring a 70-metre try that sealed the win two minutes from fulltime.
Despite the early carnage, for the opening 20 minutes, the capacity 52,385 Suncorp Stadium crowd believed they were witnessing another Maroons miracle after the home team made three line-breaks and eventually produced the opening try.
By fulltime, they were struggling to believe what they had seen as Queensland overcame the sin-binning of centre Dane Gagai and his NSW counterpart Matt Burton after a fiery start to the second half was a throwback to past Origins.
Gagai and Burton sent to the bin
“Probably the main message was we felt like the team that remained the calmest was going to win,” Cherry-Evans said.
“The team that reverted back to just playing footy was going to win because there was so many different things out there that changed the game.
“Those things can really impact the game of footy and it is whoever comes out the other side playing the smarter game and we did that. We played a style that wore them down by the end.”