Queensland's extraordinary win in the State of Origin series opener in Adelaide was even more remarkable in the wake of Tom Flegler's controversial sin-binning. The Maroons were trailing 18-16 late when the big prop's hit on Tom Trbojevic saw him sent to the sheds, but the Maroons still managed to score two tries in that period to snatch a 26-18 win.
The Maroons had to overcome plenty of adversity with Tom Gilbert (shoulder) and Selwyn Cobbo (hip) unable to finish the game, while David Fifita, Murray Taulagi (both head injury assessment) and Flegler (sin-bin) had to spend time out of the game. But their grit and fight - personified by man-of-the-match Reuben Cotter - helped them take a crucial 1-0 series lead ahead of Game II at their Suncorp Stadium cauldron.
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It was another famous Maroons win that typified the never-say-die attitude behind so many of the state's most memorable victories on the Origin stage. The fact the Blues failed to capitalise on their man advantage and were overrun by the undermanned Maroons in the final 10 minutes has put NSW coach Brad Fittler under serious scrutiny.
In truth, the Blues should have been home and dry when Flegler was essentially wiped out of the final 10 minutes of the contest after being adjudged to have collected Trbojevic in the head with his shoulder. Replays proved far from conclusive, with Trbojevic's head certainly appearing to make contact with the Queensland prop's chest, before the Blues player was forced off for the remainder of the game for a head injury assessment.
Trbojevic ultimately failed the HIA meaning he will automatically be ruled out of action for the next 11 days, in a cruel blow to NSW and his Manly club side. Following a lengthy stoppage, commentators and fans were left baffled to see Flegler leaving for the sin bin, with most accepting that a penalty would have been suffice.
“Thomas Flegler has been ... sin binned for that tackle. Surely not,” said staunch Blues supporter and NSW legend Andrew Johns in Channel 9’s commentary. Johns' co-commentator and Maroons great Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin described it as “one of the worst sin bins I’ve seen in my life." Viewers - many of whom identified as NSW fans - were also seething over a call they argued could have "ruined the game".
— NRL on Nine (@NRLonNine) May 31, 2023
In the bin? I’m a one eyed NSW fan and that was 🤔
— Jamie Soward (@sowwowofficial6) May 31, 2023
Klein has single handedly ruined this game with his absolute abysmal decision making. Wasn't even a high tackle and Flegler ends up on report and in the sin bin. It's the show piece of the game and they're serving up this. Embarrassing.#StateofOrigin
— CAPEL (@laurencecapel) May 31, 2023
The only person with a nervous wait regarding that Flegler tackle will be the referee explaining how it warranted a sin bin #Origin
— They gave me the Penske file 😉 (@Luke_Pownall) May 31, 2023
— Leith Ross (@xKingLJx) May 31, 2023
Wait… Flegler in the bin?? As a blues fan, even I know that’s a joke #Origin
— Ben Hall (@go_doggies) May 31, 2023
There's that dumb refereeing decision ruining an Origin game we've all been waiting for.
— Mike Pearsall (@MikePearsall93) May 31, 2023
Maroons romp home for famous win
Try-scoring doubles from Cobbo and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow helped Maroons coach Billy Slater's men to victory in front of a crowd of 48,613 fans in Adelaide, with Cameron Munster wrapping up the result with five minutes to go after Maroons prop Lindsay Collins out-jumped Blues captain James Tedesco to claim a high kick and set up his teammate.
Maroons prop Reuben Cotter was named man-of-the-match after putting in a workmanlike 80-minute shift in which he was forced into the second row in the 19th minute when Gilbert dislocated his shoulder. Cotter had never featured in that position before in club football for North Queensland.
Fellow second-rower David Fifita was out of action late in the first half with concussion, while Taulagi was also concussed and did not finish the match. Winger Selwyn Cobbo limped off with a hip injury in the 68th minute, with Cotter praising his side's fighting spirit after the extraordinary win.
"I don't know how we won it but we kept turning up for each other," Cotter told AAP. The Cyclone is a mixture of things. It is a process. It is about kicking to the corners, having a good kick-chase and getting good line speed on play one, two and three.
"Billy spoke to us about Cyclone at the start of the week and it's all about turning up and playing for each other. I feel like everyone is buying into it and being selfless. I didn't know I was going to be playing 80 minutes but it is real team first mentality with this group."
Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans hailed Cotter's display in just his second Origin match. "Reuben Cotter didn't do a single rep at right back-row during the week but when he was there I didn't for one second think he would let me down or the team down," Cherry-Evans said. I am really proud of Reubs and he's a deserved man of the match. It looks like we are going to have a Queensland player there for a long time. He epitomises what it is all about."
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