Reports of the Queensland State of Origin team’s demise have been grossly exaggerated.
Just when their remarkable dynasty looked set to end, the Maroons may yet have kick-started a new era of dominance after stunning NSW 22-6 to seal yet another series win at a sold out Suncorp Stadum on Wednesday night.
Man of the match Cameron Smith, debutant five-eighth Cameron Munster and hat-trick winger Valentine Holmes inspired the game three triumph in front of a ground record 52,540 to seal their 11th series victory in 12 years.
It was the perfect Origin farewell for injured Maroons five-eighth Johnathan Thurston, who received a pre-match tribute before being invited by skipper Smith to raise the shield on the podium.
It seemed the Blues never had a better chance to break Queensland’s vice-like grip on the Origin shield than this year.
The Maroons used eight debutants, three different five-eighths and a record 26 players for the series.
And no Thurston after his 37-game Origin career was ended by a shoulder injury in their come from behind game two win.
Yet they still overcame a record 28-4 opening loss at home to emerge victorious against a NSW 17 that remained the same throughout for the first time in 21 years.
“After what happened after game one here I am really proud of how they have performed under a lot of pressure,” Queensland coach Kevin Walters said.
“On Cameron (Smith), I don’t think I have seen a more dominant performance from anyone.”
The future of Queensland’s Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk may be up in the air, with both yet to decide whether to play on in 2018.
But fellow veteran Smith was already convinced the Maroons would be left in safe hands after their stirring series triumph.
“This would be one of the more pleasing series victories,” 42 Origin veteran Smith said.
“Using 26 players, that’s the most we’ve used, and they were in key positions. To be able to beat a Blues side that remained unchanged for the entire series, that’s a special effort.”
Smith said the future was bright after Munster was superb replacing Thurston at five-eighth.
“I know there will be a few older boys in the team who will be finishing up in the next year or two but I think the team is in a pretty good spot,” Smith said.
Slater and Cronk did not give anything away on their future while savouring the unlikely series win.
Off contract Slater is yet to commit to another season while Cronk is uncertain of his next move after announcing he will leave NRL club Melbourne and relocate to Sydney in 2018 to be with his fiancee.
“It’s hard to give up moments like that,”Cronk admitted, suggesting he may yet continue in Origin.
NSW coach Laurie Daley admitted he thought this would be the Blues’ year.
It remains to be seen if Daley remains at the helm after slumping to a 1-4 series record.
“They’ll eventually get there. Obviously we thought it was going to be this year. It will hurt for 12 months,” Daley said.