With State of Origin, some things never change

On the radio this morning former Origin player and Penrith legend Mark Geyer said the only way the Blues would lose this first game would be if their bus had four flat tyres on the way to the ground.

Before kick-off, Blues legend and broadcast commentator Andrew Johns was similarly confident, insisting the Blues would have way too much class for the inexperienced Maroons side. Former Blues captain Paul Gallen could see no result other than a New South Wales victory.

Queensland had the Blues exactly where they wanted them.

With eight players making their debut, and the last minute loss of centre Brenko Lee, the Maroons were underdogs in this most unusual November State of Origin opener at Adelaide Oval.

The Blues had the first real opportunity to score with Josh Addo-Carr diving into the corner only to be bundled into touch before he could ground the ball. In an exciting start to the first ever Origin game in Adelaide, the Maroons then tore down the right hand side of the field where a centering kick was defused by Cook.

The teams exchanged sets with plenty of ball movement and the expected heavy contact. The young Maroons team took advantage of several Blues errors and certainly didn't look flustered as they were continually repelled. The pace was there, the ball movement, the skill, but the intensity usually associated with Origin seemed to be lacking.

Cook more than made up for his opening error in the 16th minute of the game when he grubbered the ball into the legs of the Maroons defence, regathered, stepped and spun to crash over for the first try of the match.

After 18 minutes Blues captain Boyd Cordner revisited a season-long issue when he suffered a head knock and was helped from the field. Even without their inspirational leader the Blues started to roll on through the forwards and with some slick backline passing from Nathan Cleary to James Tedesco to Clint Gutherson and onto Addo-Carr the Blues had their second try in the corner. Cleary missed the conversion to leave the Blues 10-0 up with 20 minutes remaining in the first half.

Cameron Murray, who replaced Cordner, limped off the field after hyper-extending his leg and damaging his hamstring in the very first tackle he faced. The pace of the game was starting take its toll on the defences of both teams. The Blues kept working the ball up the middle of the Maroons line as Cordner made a surprise reappearance after somehow passing his HIA.

The Blues went to the break in front having had the better of the forward battle and after looking sharper out wide. The game was going perfectly to script, just as the pundits had predicted, but no New South Wales fan anywhere was satisfied that the game was over. Forty minutes is a long time in Origin football, especially when the underdog Maroons are trailing.

The second half started with a territorial arm wrestle which the Maroons were gradually winning. Eleven minutes after the break Kurt Capewell fended Gutherson off like a player who wasn't used to defending in the centres, before kicking ahead for AJ Brimson who streamed through to score the first points for the Maroons. Cherry-Evans converted to take the Maroons to within four points at 10-6.

Just two minutes later the Maroons tore the Blues defence apart down the other side, after clever work from Ben Hunt. This time it was Dane Gagai who fended off another part-time centre in Jack Wighton, and took off downfield. He dummied his way past Daniel Tupou and drew fullback Tedesco before sending Xavier Coates over for their second try

With 17 minutes remaining in the game a "New South Wales" chant went up from the crowd, Wighton responded with a massive hit on Coates. From the next possession the Blues started playing panic football with Tupou throwing a ridiculous pass to the feet of Cody Walker. The ball spilled out the back and Cameron Munster scooped it up and out-paced Cook to score the Maroons' third try. Another pressure conversion from Cherry-Evans saw Queensland extend their lead to 18-10.

Jake Friend was starting to play his Roosters role to perfection, darting when the dart was on, passing when it wasn't. The Blues were struggling to take the ball into the Queensland half. When they did venture forward, they were unimaginative through the halves and a lack of creativity saw them struggle to make any breaks. They became flustered by the Maroon-coloured wall in front of them, forcing passes or otherwise going through the motions.

With five minutes remaining the Blues peppered the Maroons line and Addo-Carr was able to cross again in the corner. Cleary missed the conversion, setting up another thrilling Origin finish with the scores at 18-14.

The Blues next possession ended over the touchline but they would have another opportunity. Deep on attack they forced a penalty out of Felise Kaufusi who was sent to the sin bin for trying to run down the clock. With one last play the Blues spread the ball wide to their left, but Tedesco was belted to the ground. He struggled to his feet and played the ball but the referee decided the siren had beaten him and called fulltime. The Blues were unable to pull out another last-minute escape like the one that secured them the series last year.

Queensland, the underdogs, had shown all the grit they have been famous for during the long history of the series.

With both teams scoring three tries, the difference proved to be the goal kicking of Cleary who could only manage one conversion from his three attempts. Cherry-Evans missed a penalty attempt early but slotted all three conversions, one from the touchline.

Despite an unprecedented one-week turn-around, Blues coach Brad Fittler remained calm, praising the efforts of the Maroons.

"I felt we didn't do enough in the first half, we defended awesome... but we didn't drain Queensland of any energy at all and their kickers controlled the game too well in the second half," Fittler reflected.

In the commentary booth things weren't so calm with Andrew Johns saying he couldn't believe that Queensland had won. He also insisted that Keary should be dropped for next Wednesday's Game II, to be replaced by Cody Walker.

The Blues had gone into the contest over-confident and after a four-point, three-tries-a-piece loss, one of the Blues greatest-ever players was ready to push the panic button on a player that had been calling out for Origin selection for several years.

State of Origin, the more things change the more they stay the same.