It was supposed to be the end of an era.
But Queensland’s dominance does not look like ending anytime soon after their 22-6 win over NSW at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night clinched their 11th series triumph in 12 years.
Winger Valentine Holmes nabbed a hat-trick in just his second Origin while man of the match Cameron Smith again turned back the clock to extend the team’s dynasty in front of a record 52,540-strong crowd.
The decider was billed as a changing of the guard for the Maroons with champion five-eighth Johnathan Thurston receiving a pre-match tribute.
His 37-game Origin career was ended by a shoulder injury in Queensland’s dramatic game two win.
It may have also been the final game for fellow Maroons greats Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, who are yet to decide whether to play on in 2018.
However, Queensland officially began life after Thurston just the way they left it; by breaking NSW hearts and clinching their 13th Origin decider – and seventh straight.
In a touch of class, Smith invited Thurston to lift the Origin shield with him on the podum.
“I reckon you are the greatest player to ever pull on a jersey,” Smith said to Thurston.
Smith said later of the moment: “It was pretty special but I would much prefer if he was out there with us on the field.
“I wanted to give him the moment he deserved, I wanted to share it with him.
“We won’t see a guy like him again for a long time.”
The Maroons were supposed to be at their most vulnerable this year, missing Thurston for two games and going through 26 players, including eight debutants for the series – the most ever used by Queensland.
The writing was on the wall after their record 28-4 game one loss.
But Queensland still maintained their dominance to ensure Kevin Walters is just the third Maroons coach to win his first two series.
“What a proud moment particularly after game one,” Walters said.
“That’s the proudest thing for me, how these guys played under enormous pressure.
“And what can I say about Cam Smith. I don’t think I have seen a more dominant first half.”
Debutant Cameron Munster was outstanding, stepping into the big shoes left behind by Thurston at No.6.
And in just his second Origin, Holmes became the fifth Queensland player to nab a record equalling hat-trick.
But it was the Maroons’ “big three” – Smith, Slater and Cronk – who sparked the hosts.
Slater showed no sign of an ankle complaint to be a constant threat, Smith tore NSW apart with his first half dummy half runs while Cronk’s highlight was a pin-point cross-field kick that delivered Holmes’ second try.
Queensland winger Dane Gagai received the Wally Lewis Medal as player of the series.
“It’s pretty hard to walk away from it. This is what you play the game for, the enjoyment that the game brings you,” 29 Origin veteran Slater said of his future.
NSW had backed themselves to seal their second series win in 12 years after Origin I and kept the same 17 for the entire series for the first time since 1996.
Asked about his future NSW coach Laurie Daley said: “I am not quite sure, tonight’s result has not changed my opinion on what I want to do.
“I am proud of these guys, glad they tried so hard. It will hurt for the next 12 months.”
Maligned NSW halfback Mitchell Pearce again had a game to forget as his career Origin series tally slumped to 0-7.