The National, Thursday, May 26th 2011
BRISBANE: Queensland champion Darren Lockyer celebrated his record-equalling State of Origin appearance by setting up the match-winning try as the Maroons downed a gallant New South Wales 16-12 at Suncorp Stadium last night.
With the Blues having hit the lead for the first time in the 69th minute, Lockyer responded with a superb inside ball for a flying Billy Slater to snatch the game back for the home side.
The 34-year-old maestro, who joined Maroons great Allan Langer on 34 Origin games, had already mercilessly teased the Blues with his kicking game before icing the cake with eight minutes to go.
Queensland showed yet again they are never beaten in a pulsating Origin encounter that ended with a traditional punch-up started by Brisbane Bronco Corey Parker and Greg Bird.
The Blues had scored twice in four minutes to lead 12-10 in the 69th minute, Ricky Stuart’s new era in charge looking to have begun after a courageous NSW side repelled blistering starts from the Maroons in both halves.
In the end, Queensland scored three tries to two through Johnathan Thurston, Jharal Yow Yeh and Slater to have the 52,144 crowd in raptures, Thurston booting two from four.
For the Blues, Mitchell Pearce and Michael Jennings scored morale boosting tries with Jamie Soward kicking two from two.
“That (try) was an important one, they were on a roll there for about 15 minutes and they scored a couple of tries so the boys dug deep,” Slater told the Nine Network.
“(Prop) Matty Scott probably set it up with his run, he got them on the back foot and we had a few spaces out wide.
“There was nothing in it this time and surely there’ll be nothing in the second one and the third one as well.”
Queensland will head to ANZ Stadium next month with a 1-0 lead, a deficit the Blues have not recovered from since they last won a series under Stuart in 2005.
“We tried hard, we didn’t have a lot go our way, especially early on,” Blues skipper Paul Gallen said.
“To hit the front with (11 minutes) left was tremendous but you just can’t knock off for half a second and that’s what happened.
“I don’t know how many drop-outs they had and I don’t think we had one so that was probably the big difference, their kicking.”
Maroons coach Mal Meninga notched the most wins for a Queensland mentor with 12, bettering Arthur Beetson and Wayne Bennett.
NSW would not have been disappointed to have gone to the break just 6-0 down after fighting their way back following Thurston’s fifth minute try.
The visitors, though, were stunned when a pass from Mitchell Pearce to Josh Dugan from the kick-off to the second half was incredibly called forward.
That didn’t cost the Blues but a mistake from Brett Morris did five minutes later when the winger failed to collect a Cooper Cronk grubber that bounced perfectly for Yow Yeh to score on debut and make it 10-0.
NSW withstood some massive pressure as the Maroons threw everything at them, Lockyer appearing to have put a spell on the ball as his kicking game earned set after set.
Thurston hit the upright with a 60th-minute penalty goal attempt from in front and the ever-dangerous Jennings looked to be away three minutes later before a try-saving tackle from Slater.
But it was an error from Slater moments later that led to Pearce’s 65th minute four-pointer, laid on by a Greg Bird bust, and it was 10-6.
The momentum was with NSW and four minutes later a set move saw Josh Dugan put Jennings into space and this time he sold Slater a dummy to score his first try of the season, Soward’s conversion giving the Blues the lead for the first time at 12-10.
But it took only three more minutes for Lockyer to lay on the match-winner for Slater.