Brave Blues warned to lift for decider against Queensland
New South Wales may have squared the State of Origin series with a gutsy display in Sydney, but captain Paul Gallen left ANZ Stadium yesterday with a simple message to his players.
The hard work’s just getting started.
In front of 83,000 people, most baying Queensland blood, NSW made the most of Cooper Cronk’s sin binning early in the second half to race to a 16-6 lead before surviving a vicious Maroons onslaught.
The result set up a mouth-watering decider in Brisbane on July 4. However, as well as the Blues played, the skipper knows they’ll need to raise the bar again to have a hope of ending Queensland’s record six-year reign.
“We have to improve, there’s no two ways about it,” Gallen said. “We’ve got to keep on getting better. Everyone has to go back to club level and play like Origin players.
“We’ve then got to come back into camp, go up there and rip in.”
Just as in game one in Melbourne, NSW dictated terms in the first half but went to the break behind on the scoreboard after Maroons prop Ben Hannant pounced on a Akuila Uate error to cancel out Brett Stewart’s opener.
But while that seemed to knock the wind out of the Blues sails, the real turning point came after half-time as Maroons No.7 Cronk was sent to bin for taking out Todd Carney without the ball as he looked destined to score.
NSW immediately set about making their rivals pay, Carney breaking through from his own 20 metre line to put away Stewart for his second before Josh Morris swooped on a loose ball that the referees ruled was stripped from Jarryd Hayne’s grasp to extend the lead to 12 points.
With their full quota of players restored, the Maroons began the inevitable fightback and Greg Inglis put them to within striking distance when he scored off a Johnathan Thurston bomb. But despite dominating possession and territory for the last 20 minutes, they couldn’t land the killer blow.
And Queensland captain Cameron Smith conceded Cronk’s stint off the field was pivotal.
“We struggled when Cooper got put in the sin-bin,” the hooker said.
“They scored two tries and we couldn’t recover. We had a lot of field position in the second half but unfortunately we couldn’t get the win and that’s one-all and we’ll go back to Brisbane for the decider.”