CHAMPIONS. There’s no other way to describe Queensland and the pain continues for New South Wales after a heartbreaking 12-10 loss at ANZ Stadium in the Decider.
Last year it was Cooper Cronk orchestrating the Blues heartache and the Melbourne halfback was at it again in 2013, setting up what turned out to be the match-winning try to Justin Hodges in front of a hostile ground-record crowd of 83,813.
The Blues were courageous, gutsy and gallant but ultimately they weren’t good enough as the Maroons juggernaut rolled on with no end in sight. Superlatives don’t do justice to this rugby league side and even if they did, they’d all have been used ad-nauseam by now.
"We've got to be better across the park, but we're getting sick of talking about it. I'm keen to go around again next year. It makes me want to work harder, but the players are really hurting. I'll go and deal with that first," Blues coach Laurie Daley said.
The Maroons got off to a perfect start after just 10 minutes with a piece of individual brilliance from Johnathan Thurston. With his side having the vast majority of possession in the opening stages it was important for them to make it count and the little general did it all himself.
As the Maroons moved the ball to the left side which was so dominant in game two, the NSW defence rushed up on the outside to force him back on the inside. Unfortunately for the hosts the men covering the inside weren’t quite quick enough and Thurston slithered his way between Aaron Woods and Robbie Farah to score next to the posts. The next 10 minutes continued in the same vein with Queensland having the majority of the ball but they only had a further penalty goal to show for it in the 13th minute after Cooper Cronk was bumped by NSW five-eighth James Maloney after kicking the ball.
NSW coach Laurie Daley introduced Manly’s Anthony Watmough in the 21st minute and from that point the game significantly swung in the Blues’ favour with his leg speed posing all problems for a tiring Queensland defence.
In the 26th minute the Blues finally took advantage of possession evening up and it was Newcastle winger James McManus who found the tryline. With the Blues appearing content to always go to their right hand side when they were in an attacking part of the field and Josh Dugan’s quick hands to Morris were the determining factor. The Canterbury centre drew the attention of Greg Inglis and Billy Slater before flicking a pass to his winger. McManus still had a bit to do, dancing his way between Slater and Cameron Smith before carrying teammate Darius Boyd over the line.
The Blues had several more opportunities before the break, with Boyd fumbling a Robbie Farah kick into the in-goal before reaching back and forcing the ball with his left hand moments before Morris would have scored the try for the Blues. The Maroons staggered to the halftime break holding a four-point lead with the Blues not helping their own by lacking the polish on the end of their sets to contribute further to the scoreline.
The second half turned into a war of attrition with points hard to come by and despite scoring a try in the 61st minute the Maroons had to work hard for their victory, but work hard they did.
“It’s heartbreaking. You work so hard for something but we weren’t clinical enough. Some passes didn’t stick and we weren’t good enough,” dejected Blues skipper Robbie Farah told Channel 9 after the match.
The match ended in slightly farcical fashion when a ground intruder was involved in the play leading up to Matt Scott’s disallowed try when he dived on the ground in the shadows of the posts and obstructed Ryan Hoffman.
Maroons captain Cameron Smith was gracious in defeat, saying he knew the Blues would finish the game strong and acknowledged the Blues were getting closer but his team didn’t plan on halting their winning run.
“You should be proud of yourselves boys, you’ve come up against a very good football side and come out the other side. Enjoy it,” he said.
New South Wales Blues 10 Queensland Maroons 12
Venue: Stadium Australia
Halftime Score: Queensland Maroons 8-4
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Matt Scott
2 points - Cooper Cronk
1 point - Anthony Watmough
NEW SOUTH WALES BLUES (10)
Tries: James McManus, Trent Merrin
Conversions: James Maloney (1/2)
QUEENSLAND MAROONS (12)
Tries: Johnathan Thurston, Justin Hodges
Conversions: Johnathan Thurston (1/2)
Penalty Goals: Johnathan Thurston (1/1)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary
Interchange: 14. Andrew Fifita 15. Trent Merrin 16. Anthony Watmough 17. Boyd Cordner
QUEENSLAND: 1. Billy Slater 2. Darius Boyd 3. Greg Inglis 4. Justin Hodges 5.Brent Tate 6. Johnathan Thurston 7. Cooper Cronk 8.Matt Scott 9. Cameron Smith (c) 10. Nate Myles 11. Chris McQueen 12. Sam Thaiday 13. Corey Parker
Interchange: 14. Daly Cherry-Evans 15. Ben Te'o 16. Matt Gillett 17. Josh Papalii
Scored by Johnathan Thurston. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful.
Thurston opens the scoring for the Maroons! The Blues raced up on the outside, but forgot about the bloke with the ball and the five-eighth slithered his way in between Woods and Farah to score alongside the posts. He adds the extras.
Queensland Maroons 6-0
Penalty goal attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful.
Thurston adds the extras from beside the posts to put his side out by more than a converted try.
Queensland Maroons 8-0
Scored by James McManus. Conversion attempt by James Maloney unsuccessful.
McManus dives over in the corner for the Blues! The home side threw the ball to the right side, with Morris drawing in Boyd before throwing a pass to his winger. The Novocastrian still had some work to do, but he banged the ball down in the corner despite Boyd attempting to prevent the try. Maloney can't add the extras from the sideline.
Queensland Maroons 8-4
Scored by Justin Hodges. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston unsuccessful.
Hodges scores for Queensland! They ran the ball on the last with Cronk delivering a perfect short ball to Hodges who burst through Jennings' attempted tackle to score. Thurston can't add the extras but the visitors are out by more than a converted try.
Queensland Maroons 12-4
Scored by Trent Merrin. Conversion attempt by James Maloney successful.
Trent Merrin scores for the Blues to put them back in the game! There was nothing doing for the Dragons forward but he pushed away from Parker to score under the sticks. Maloney adds the extras. Grandstand finish coming up.
Queensland Maroons 12-10