The long awaited and eagerly anticipated event had finally arrived, and a nation could barely contain its excitement as the State of Origin series for 2023 got underway with the first game between the Blues of New South Wales and Queensland’s Maroons in Adelaide, at the Adelaide Oval.
Billy Slater´s Queensland won the series last year by 2-1 after losing in 2021 to Brad Fittler’s Blues, and no side has retained the trophy since New South Wales in 2019. The bookies had the Blues as slight favourites to take the opening win on neutral territory but close to their own soil, but with a handicap of just two they thought that it would be a close-run thing between two side, evenly matched on paper.
As kick-off approached, the excitement was palpable.
Nerves were settled by an early fracas with just two minutes on the clock, almost all twenty-six players getting involved in some pushing and shoving.
Seven minutes after the first whistle the Maroons hit the front after Ben Hall passed to Cameron Munster who put in a perfect grubber which was chased, caught, and grounded by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. Valentine Holmes added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
The second try came on twelve after a delightful passing move down the right-hand side, Holmes drawing the last defender and feeding Selwyn Cobbo in space to dive in at the corner. Holmes slipped the touchline conversion just wide, but it was a perfect start for Queensland.
The Blues had a couple of opportunities to get back into the game, but sensational defence from Queensland kept then out. Finally, on thirty-two minutes, Liam Martin took a beautiful short pass from Jarome Luai, who had himself taken a no-look pass from half-back partner Nathan Cleary. Martin went through the smallest of gaps to score under the sticks and give Cleary a simple conversion to reduce the arrears to four points.
It had been a half of two halves, the Maroons dominating the opening twenty, but New South Wales in control up to half time.
NSW were level four minutes after the restart after an offload went wrong, was fumbled before being collected by Apisai Koroisau who ran ten to score. Cleary added the extras and after being a poor second best at the start of the game the Blues were now ahead.
Daly Cherry-Evans kicked a superb 40-20 when it was vitally important that the Maroons spent some time the oppositions twenty but on the first play Lindsay Collins put the ball to ground in the tackle.
The lead switched again on fifty-seven as Cobbo took the pass wide, beat two players with a fifteen-metre run down his wing, and slide over to ground while just managing to keep his feet in play. Holmes drilled a touchline conversion, Queensland now with a 16-12 lead.
Sustained NSW pressure got them back level after a high Cleary kick was knocked back to Luai and on the next pass, ended up in the hands of Stephen Crichton to run the angle and score. Cleary added the extras and once again the Blues were ahead. As the game entered its last ten minutes perfectly poised.
Thomas Flegler was sin-binned after giving away a penalty for a dangerous tackle, the Maroons now looked in trouble but it acted as their catalyst.
Six minutes remained when Queensland were back in the leads, Tabuai-Fidow sprinting fifty metres and avoiding flailing tacklers to score by the uprights, Holmes added the conversion for a four-point lead to the Maroons.
The game was won on seventy-six as Lyndsay Collins leapt to collect a high kick before passing to Cam Munster to go in from ten metres, unopposed. The kick was missed, but with a man down, Queensland had score two tries without reply, and had an eight-point lead.
The game lived up to all expectations as it switched lead four times, over an action packed eighty minutes, with plenty of skill, aggression, and needle. Queensland outscored New South Wales by five tries to three, amazingly getting two of those while they were a man down after the sin-binning. Queensland now head back to home turf with a one game advantage and now clear favourites for the series win.
New South Wales: Tedesco J, To’o, Crichton (T), Trbojevic, Addo-Carr, Luai, Cleary (3G), Pagai Junior, Koroisau (T), Haas, Frizel, Young, Yeo. Subs: Paulo, Murray, Martin (T), Hynes. 18th Man: Burton.
Queensland: Walsh, Cobbo (2T), Holmes (3G), Tabuai-Fidow (2T), Taulagi, Munster (T), Cherry-Evans, Fa’asuamaleaui, Hunt, Colins, Fifita, Gilbert, Carrigan. Subs: Grant, Flegler (SB on 68), Cotter, Arrow. 18th Man: Dearden.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 0-10, 4-10, 6-10 : HT: 10-10, 12-10, 12-14, 12-16, 16-16, 18-16, (SB), 18-20, 18-22, 18-26 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Queensland – Square – New South Wales – Queensland – Square – New South Wales - Queensland.
Referee: Ashley Klein.