New South Wales coach Brad Fittler has taken aim at the refereeing in State of Origin III as a gutsy Queensland side stopped the Blues from completing a rare clean sweep.
The Maroons won 20-18 on the Gold Coast on Wednesday night, rallying after losing the lead early in the first half then defending their line as the Blues looked set to break their hearts at the death.
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Latrell Mitchell had a chance to send the match to golden point with a penalty shot from halfway in the dying stages but his kick fell just short as the Maroons held on for a morale-boosting victory.
The Blues were trying to emulate the last NSW side to complete a series clean sweep - curiously when Fittler was captain of the side 21 years ago.
However, some resolute Maroons defence coupled with an uncharacteristically disjointed attack from the Blues meant the chance went begging for NSW, who celebrated a 2-1 series victory regardless.
Fittler's side was on the receiving end of a lop-sided number of six-again calls for ruck infringements in the first half and the Blues coach shared his grievances on Channel Nine's broadcast when asked by league great Andrew Johns what his side needed to improve on early in the second half.
“It’s a bit hard, Joey. They’re sort of lying all over us (in the ruck), to be fair, like now. We’re not getting much joy from the ref. We need to play. We’re not going to win a grinding game here. We need to play”.
Commentator and former NSW coach Phil Gould also questioned the officials for awarding 15 set restarts and first half penalties to the Maroons, during a fiery half-time rant.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) July 14, 2021
“Someone needs to go down and knock on the referee’s door and tell him he’s not the main attraction here this evening, he’s been way too overzealous with the penalties,” Gould said at half-time.
“Let the players decide the result.”
After the match, Fittler accused the referees of missing a Kalyn Ponga knock-on that resulted in a crucial try to Ben Hunt - one of the two the Maroons hooker scored on the night.
“There was a few decisions I thought were pretty dodgy, I wasn’t happy with,” Fittler said.
“I thought the Ponga one on the right-hand side before the try, I thought that was a knock-on. I thought before the goal kick Latrell got pushed in the back.
“I haven’t seen the replay but when I first saw the knock-on I thought that was an obvious call.”
Queensland fullback Ponga was electric in his first game of the series and punches were thrown on the full-time siren as Green's under-pressure side breathed some late life into a series they had already meekly surrendered.
"We talk about Origin efforts and sometimes don't know what your'e talking about, but our team lived through that tonight," Green said.
"(I'm) really happy; it was a great win ... it was a real Origin-type game and we came out on top."
The Blues looked on track for their first series sweep since 2000 when called-up No.6 Jack Wighton burst over for a 12-8 lead early in the second half at Cbus Super Stadium.
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But Hunt, usually a halfback at NRL level, darted over from dummy-half then finished off a Ponga break as the Maroons pushed ahead by eight points.
Blues hooker Api Koroisau won the race to a Mitchell Moses grubber-kick though, before first-half tryscorer Latrell Mitchell missed a 50m penalty kick that would have levelled the scores with a minute to play.
A desperate Ponga lunge had earlier knocked down a pass from man-of-the-series Tom Trbojevic that would have led to a try and they showed similar desperation to snuff out the Blues' last efforts in a well-overdue fighting performance from the hosts.
Queensland were more direct, their forwards more effective and with fullback Ponga floating out the back they, at last, had a presence in the series.
They had just one Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow try and a 8-6 half-time lead to show for it though, at one stage going eight straight sets on the Blues' line without success.
Like in Brisbane's Game II, Mitchell was a danger on both sides of the ball, strolling past Dane Gagai for the game's first try then swiping a Daly Cherry-Evans pass out of the air to defuse another Queensland raid.
The late venue switch to the Gold Coast didn't have the fortress feel of Suncorp Stadium, jeers greeting the hosts when they ran onto the ground in front of a near-capacity crowd of 26,307.
It didn't deter Queensland though, who took their first lead of the series after an early penalty and in Tabuai-Fidow seemingly had an answer to Tom Trbojevic's blinding speed on the flank.
After a 50-6 win in Townsville and a 26-0 shut-out in Brisbane, the Blues steadied and looked set to complete their whistlestop tour of Queensland with a more grinding victory.
Despite the loss, it was still the biggest series margin win in Origin history, the Blues outscoring Queensland by 68 points to eclipse their 62-point margin set in 2000.
"I don't think it slipped away, I never felt we were in control at any stage really," Blues coach Brad Fittler said.
"We had our chances at the death but weren't playing good enough to take those and that's why they're (clean sweeps) hard ... that was their (Queensland's) best game of the series without a doubt."
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