The New South Wales Blues are back in town and well and truly back in the 2011 State of Origin competition after the underdogs clinched a hard-fought 18 – 8 Origin Game 2 win over an uncharacteristically rattled Queensland Maroons on Wednesday night.
Blues players and coaching staff had appealed to the New South Wales fans to brave the cold and get out to support their state and the Blue army of supporters turned out in force at ANZ Stadium, a near capacity crowd of 81,965 there to see their team snap a four-game losing streak.
It’s now GAME ON for Queensland to send long-serving skipper Darren Lockyer off on a winning note when the Maroons attempt to bounce back and secure their unprecedented sixth straight State of Origin series win in the third and final game back in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on July 6.
Last night the Blues came out firing on all cylinders, knowing it was do or die for a club that had failed to earn the right to get their name engraved on the coveted State of Origin shield for the past five years.
Dedication from coach Ricky Stewart and a new-found spirit of teamwork running through the Blues squad saw the boys from south of the Tweed match the Maroons, beating them at their own game and rewarding all the devoted Luxbet punters that had backed the Blues for an Origin upset.
Early on the commanding Canetoads held an eight to nil lead over the home side after a penalty kick from Maroon halfback Johnathan Thurston in the third minute was followed by a soft Cameron Smith try.
With opening points posted from a Queensland penalty, Luxbet punters that had money on this result would have enjoyed a very tidy payout early on!
Darting from dummy-half five metres out in the 24th minute, hooker Smith found a lazy gap in the Blues defence to get over for what would turn out to be the Maroons’ sole try of the game, Smith paying a juicy $21 as first tryscorer of the night through Luxbet.
But the Blues displayed the never say die mentality that their 31-year adversaries are so famous for, New South Wales digging deep and scoring 18 unanswered points to set up a thrilling series decider in three weeks time.
The Maroons took an 8 – 6 lead to the sheds at halftime, the Blues getting in the game thanks to interchange forward Luke Lewis’ awesome four-pointer 10 minutes from the break.
Having come off the bench about a minute earlier, Lewis was able to capitalise off a Mitchell Pearce kick with just his second touch of the ball producing the Blues opening points as he out-leapt Queensland fullback Billy Slater to score in the corner.
Back from the break, the Blues quickly set the precedence for the second 40 minute set with Origin debutant, young Will Hopoate scoring their second try of the night in the 49th minute.
Playing left centre for just the third time in his short but impressive NRL career to date, Hopoate was one of the many stars in Blue last night scoring a four-pointer on debut as is becoming tradition for young guns in the Origin arena.
In a blow for Hopoate, whose acrobatic putdown was nothing short of miraculous, 10 minutes after scoring he came off with a hamstring injury.
The three-tries-to-one Game Two Origin victory was sealed for the Blues when recalled fullback Anthony Minichello, playing his first Origin game in six years, found a Jamie Soward off-load to get over and put the result beyond doubt in the 77th minute.
There was no denying the Blues played the better game of footy, much of the accolades falling to captain Paul Gallen who seems to have found his spot as prop forward; critics of Stewarts’ decision to play Gallen in front quickly and swiftly silenced.
Earning Man of the Match, Gallen played a nearly unheard of 80 minutes of Origin football last night, featuring in 18 hit-ups and making 30 tackles.
Stewart was there in the coaching box six long years ago when the Blues last won a State of Origin series, and the mastercoach is on the verge of doing it again in 2011.
After squaring the 2011 State of Origin series one-all, New South Wales have now firmed in from as much as $4.60 to $2.35 at Luxbet to reclaim bragging rights and deny the Maroons another series win.
Despite their second-round defeat, Queensland have retained favouritism now paying $1.60 at Luxbet to win the decider and the series in Origin Game 3.
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