A controversial penalty try to Boyd Cordner has helped New South Wales win the State of Origin series after edging Queensland 18-14 in a tense Game II.
The contentious incident came as the Blues trailed 10-6 with NSW skipper Cordner ruled to have been held back by Ben hunt as he attempted to score off a grubber into the Maroons in-goal.
NOT SINCE 1981: Contentious, rare incident divides State of Origin fans
The Blues had to withstand a late Maroons assault with one man in the sin bin but they hung on to clinch a thrilling victory in front of a packed house at ANZ Stadium.
Queensland jumped out to an early lead in their must-win match despite being denied a try to Dane Gagai inside ten minutes.
The Blues – who went into the game hoping to claim the series for the first time since 2014 – were under the pump early on and looked to have gone behind when Gagai touched down.
Queensland were targeting the wing of Tom Trbojevic early on but it was on the other side of the field where they almost opened the scoring.
Gagai was initially awarded a try after diving over in the right corner for the Queenslanders.
However, replays showed that his right leg had grazed the touchline before he grounded the footy and the try was overturned.
The Maroons didn’t have to wait long to get the opening points though, with Valentine Holmes finishing off a sweeping move down the right side of the Blues’ defence.
Tom Trbojevic was enticed in off his wing with Holmes exploiting an overlap to touch down for the game’s first try.
There was no denying Gagai moments later as Billy Slater spotted an opportunity down the short side and helped put the Maroons winger through for the visitors’ second try of the evening.
The Blues hit back midway through the opening half after a superb cut-out pass from James Maloney found Josh Addo-Carr, who showed fancy feet to cut inside and cross the tryline.
But the biggest talking point came via a brain snap from Hunt as the Maroons halfback gifted the lead to NSW via a penalty try.
Hunt was adjudged to have prevented Cordner from scoring a try for the Blues after using his shoulder to hit the Blues skipper on his way to the tryline.
The Blues extended their advantage shortly after halftime when James Tedesco caught the Maroons napping on the short side – passing to Latrell Mitchell to dart over in the corner.
Maloney added the extras with his conversion stretching NSW’s lead out to 18-10 with less than thirty minutes to play.
Will Chambers breathed life into a Maroons comeback when he got on the outside of Addo-Carr to scurry over for a four-pointer.
Holmes missed the shot at conversion to leave the Queenslanders 18-14 down with a tick over fifteen minutes left in the match.
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Origin rookie Kalyn Ponga went close to levelling it up moments later when he zipped through the tiring Blues defence, only to be tackled a couple of metres short of the tryline.
However, fortune smiled on the Maroons on the next play when James Roberts was sent to the bin for a professional foul after holding back a Queensland kick-chaser.
It meant the Blues would have to hang on for almost the rest of the match against a rampaging Queensland side that had found another gear.
The Maroons were their worst enemy though – throwing away an opportunity to hit back immediately after an inexplicable third tackle kick from Ben Hunt.
NSW somehow held off the late challenge from the Maroons as Roberts rejoined the fray with just under two minutes to play.
A knock-on by Queensland on their own tryline sealed the result as the Blues ran down the clock on the resulting set to hold on for a tense four-point win.
“We were going to have to face adversity at some point – it was how we reacted to that,” NSW half James Maloney said.
“That’s Origin. A lot of these guys are playing their first series. They don’t understand and don’t appreciate the significance of it – it’s a special moment and hopefully it’s the start of something.”
Queensland threatened to break NSW hearts yet again when returning hero Billy Slater celebrated his landmark 30th Origin by helping the visitors race to a 10-0 lead after just 20 minutes.
Instead of Independence Day for the Blues it loomed as Groundhog Day.
However, the Blues rallied to ensure Brad Fittler became just the sixth NSW coach to claim the Origin title in his first series.
NSW backed up their 22-12 game one win with victory in the first Sunday night Origin game in 17 years.
Sadly, Cordner may not remember the famous victory – he was helped off the field in the 75th minute with concussion.
“It was there, it was ours for the taking. We had them on the ropes,” Queensland captain Greg Inglis said.
“It hurts. I know we could’ve had it but we shot ourselves in the foot.”