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Qld overrun Blues in knockout Origin opener

Ben Hunt scores for Queensland

Source: NRL

Queensland has overrun NSW 38-10 in a controversial and dramatic State of Origin opener that leaves the Blues having to defy history to make a comeback.

The game opened in thrilling fashion at Sydney’s Accor Stadium on Wednesday night, before the knockout moment of the match came in just the seventh minute.

The raucous crowd was silenced as Queenslander Reece Walsh lay prone on the field for several minutes after a late and high tackle by the Blues’ Joseph Suaalii.

In a horror start to Michael Maguire’s tenure as NSW coach, Suaalii was sent off on his debut night. He faces a four-match ban for the grade-two reckless high tackle.

The ban will balloon out to five matches if he fights it and loses.

The shot left the Blues in tatters on their right edge, as Queensland romped to its biggest win in Sydney and within one victory of a third straight series success.

Jamming in to put a hit on, Suaalii collected Walsh high and late after the Maroons fullback had passed the ball while coming out of his own half.

Referee Ashley Klein ordered the rugby-bound star from the field after stopping play a minute later, labelling the shot as dangerous and direct to the head.

The decision was one of the most controversial and dramatic in State of Origin history and left NSW down a man for 73 minutes.

State of Origin

Medics attend to Reece Walsh after the ‘dangerous’ tackle. Photo: Getty

Maguire accused the NRL of double standards, pointing to the decision not to sin-bin or charge Penrith centre Taylan May for head-on-head contact on Walsh earlier this year.

“Earlier on in the year, he ended up with a broken jaw, I think. And there’s no send off,” Maguire said.

“This one was line ball, because he was actually falling. And the height of that in this moment had Joey clip him a bit.

“But it was a big call in a game like this.”

Maroons coach Billy Slater refused to comment on the tackle when asked after the win.

“I will keep my feelings about that to myself,” Slater said.

Asked whether he felt NSW had made a point to target Walsh illegally, Slater said: “I have no idea, but I will keep my feelings on that to myself.

“[Reece] seems to be OK now. He didn’t look too good on the field. But he seems to be OK in the sheds.”

With Suaalii off the field, Queensland ran through the gap caused on the Blues’ right edge with ease as Slater’s decision to have Selwyn Cobbo on the bench paid dividends.

Man-of-the-match Daly Cherry-Evans was brilliant for Queensland, while Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow finished with a hat-trick after being moved to fullback.

State of Origin

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow completed a hat-trick of tries. Photo: Getty

Jaydn Su’A and Cobbo also ran roughshod down Suaalii’s side, both offloading in the lead up to one Tabuai-Fidow try before Cobbo brushed off defenders to set up another.

The Blues eventually shifted Stephen Crichton to right centre to shut down the Maroons’ threat before halftime, but by then the damage had been done.

Queensland led 20-6, giving NSW an insurmountable mountain to climb.

The path to the Blues’ first series victory since 2021 looks equally difficult for Maguire’s men, with the final two games in Melbourne and Brisbane.

Only the 1994 NSW side has come back to win the series after losing the first game at home and being asked to spend the rest of the series on the road.

NSW started the better of the teams on Wednesday night, winning the early territorial battle.

But when Nicho Hynes put a grubberkick dead, the Maroons went down field with Cherry-Evans skipping out of dummy-half to put Ben Hunt over.

And while NSW managed to regroup late in the first half and get itself back to 20-10 early in the second through tries to James Tedesco and Zac Lomax, Queensland was able to pull away again late.

After holding out a NSW attacking raid with 13 minutes to play, Queensland went the length of the field when Cobbo and Hunt broke through the line on back-to-back plays.

Brian To’o meets a wall of Maroon. Photo: Getty

Cherry-Evans then put the game beyond all doubt when he intercepted an Isaah Yeo pass moments later, running 60 metres before kicking for Xavier Coates to score.

Tabuai-Fidow bagged another on a night of few positives for NSW with only Lomax, Liam Martin and Spencer Leniu having games to remember.

NSW must defy history

Maguire insists his NSW side is capable of defying history and denying Queensland a third straight State of Origin series victory.

The result puts Queensland firmly on the path towards keeping intact Billy Slater’s perfect record since becoming coach in 2022.

The team that has won game one has been victorious in 31 of the 42 State of Origin series, with the Blues rebounding from 1-0 down only three times.

Making matters even worse for NSW is that the final two matches are in Melbourne and Brisbane. Even if the Blues do draw level at 1-1 in Melbourne, they have lost their last six deciders at Suncorp Stadium.

But despite history firmly against his side, Maguire was adamant it was possible to turn things around.

“I’ve been in this circumstance before, so I know exactly what we’ll do,” he said.

“I’ll obviously talk to the players. If you have 13 players out there, the whole game is a different ball game. I’m really confident in where the players are taking what we’re doing.”

The Blues are also insistent they can take positives out of the record Sydney loss, namely through the period after halftime.

Despite being down a man for 73 minutes, NSW had better field position for the majority of the match but lacked end-of-set polish and genuine game-breaking threat.

After falling 20-6 behind in the 25th minute and with 12 men on the field, NSW remained in the game until the latter parts of the second half.

The hosts had an attacking set with 14 minutes to go while down 20-10, before the Blues’ defence burst open and conceded three more late tries.

“We take a lot of belief in that [period]. The boys showed a lot of fight,” captain Jake Trbojevic said. “That 20 minutes was a really dominant period with a man down. But it’s a long game, we’ve got to do it for longer periods.”

Queensland is also adamant it can be better.

Walsh won’t play for Brisbane again before that game. His 11-day stand down for a concussion rules him out of matches against Cronulla and South Sydney.

But the Maroons at this stage have no other injury concerns, after giving themselves the best chance at retaining the shield.

“We’ve got a lot of improvement left in us. We’ll take the win on their home soil but there’s so much work to be done,” captain Daly Cherry-Evans said.

“I honestly don’t know if [a win in Sydney] counts for anything if you don’t go out there and earn the next two wins.

“They’re not going to give us anything. It’s all about us.”

-with AAP

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