New South Wales and Queensland will head to a State of Origin decider in Brisbane on July 13 after the Blues thrashed the Maroons 44-12 in Perth, as Nathan Cleary delivered a rugby league masterclass.
Brad Fittler arrived at Optus Stadium with the Blues needing to keep the series alive and after copping plenty of flak for making seven changes to the side that lost Game 1 in Sydney 16-10 on June 8.
He leaves Perth one win away from securing a fourth Origin series triumph in five years and with his decision to reshuffle the pack fully vindicated.
New South Wales thrashed Queensland 44-12 to level the State of Origin series in Perth
The Maroons came back to earth with a thump after their 16-10 win in Sydney in Game 1
Matt Burton and Jake Trbojevic, two of the players Fittler brought into the fold for Game 2, were pivotal to the Blues’ rout. Deployed at centre, the Canterbury five-eight played with the confidence of a veteran rather than as a 21-year-old making his Origin debut.
Burton scored one and set up another, while Trbojevic marked his Origin return with an Herculean effort that saw him rack up 148 running metres and 30 tackles.
That neither landed the man of the match awards says more about Cleary’s performance than their own. The Penrith star had accepted responsibility for the Blues’ defeat in Game 1 and more than atoned for that disappointment.
Cleary finished with two tries, one try assist, six tackle busts, 68 run metres and was perfect from the kicking tee.
Nathan Cleary scored his first Origin try in the second half as the Blues dominated
The New South Wales halfback added a second try just three minutes later
Cleary finished the game with 24 points and was perfect from the kicking tee
With the Blues trailing 12-8 in the first half, Cleary set up Burton’s debut try with a superb grubber kick, before grabbing his first Origin try in 11 attempts in the second half.
Three minutes later, he scored again to drove home the dagger that killed any slim hopes of a Queensland comeback and stretch New South Wales lead to 38-12.
‘I think that second half tonight was one of the truly great halfback performances in Origin history,’ Phil Gould said on Channel Nine after the game.
‘It ranks up there with the best of all time in what he did in that period. In the first half he was a little frantic and side-to-side and trying to find something. A grubber kick to Burton got a spark in him and all of a sudden he started to tear Queensland apart.’
James Tedesco was at instrumental best for the Blues at Optus Stadium on Sunday night
Daniel Tupou also crossed for the Blues and along with Tedesco and Brian To’o combined for 72 runs and 726 metres
Cleary was brilliantly supported by a back three of James Tedesco, Brian To’o and Daniel Tupou, who combined for 72 runs and 726 metres.
For Queensland, meanwhile, the excitement surrounding the win in Game 1 gave way to recrimination.
The Maroons withstood pressure in the first half and scored twice through Felise Kaufusi and Cameron Munster to lead by four points just before the break.
With one minute left in the first half, however, the Melbourne star went from hero to villain as he was sin-binned for an infringement at the ruck.
Felise Kaufusi scored Queensland’s first try of the game as the Maroons took the lead
But he was controversially sin-binned on the stroke of halftime for a ruck infringement
Ashley Klein’s decision to yellow card Kaufusi left a sour taste in the mouths of Gould and Paul Vautin, particularly as it came after a series of ‘six-again’ calls.
‘I hate sin bins at the best of times let alone in Origin,’ Gould said.
‘I don’t think there was ever a warning here. […] Now they’ll justify that, but in Origin football or in any football I don’t think it should have got to that point.’
Matt Burton is mobbed by teammates after scoring his first Origin try for the Blues
Burton (second left) was majestic in his State of Origin debut on Sunday night
Cameron Munster scored Queensland’s second try, before the Maroons collapsed
Vautin added: ‘There was five [new sets] in a row, I mean it is a gee up. No one knows what they’re for. No one here knows, no one at home knows, we don’t know, we are so called experts, so called.’
The Blues immediately capitalised on their numerical superiority as Brian To’o scored in the corner to give his side the lead.
New South Wales never looked back piling on another 30 unanswered points to take the aggregate score over two Origin games in Perth to 82-18 in the Blues’ favour.
If there’s one bit of solace to be found for Queensland is that the decider will be played in Brisbane.