The NSW Blues raised the State of Origin shield again on Wednesday night after claiming a heroic last-minute six-point victory over Queensland in a dramatic decider at ANZ Stadium.
This win marks their first back-to-back series wins since 2005, and signifies what could potentially be the start of a dominant era for the Blues in the Origin arena.
The series win was glittered with remarkable performances from a number of the Blues’ star players. James Tedesco scored the series-winning try on Wednesday, but beyond that caused the Maroons all kinds of headaches on his way to claiming the Wally Lewis Medal.
Damien Cook again ran riot through Queensland’s ruck, and jump-started the Blues’ go-forward throughout the series. While James Maloney made a heroic return in Game Two to help steer the side to victory.
The back pages were crammed with images of said names, but if anything, this heroic Blues triumph was built on the collective efforts of some of New South Wales’ lesser hailed stars.
Brad Fittler’s decision to leave out damaging centre Latrell Mitchell for Game Two, in place of Jack Wighton, didn’t go down well with most Blues faithful. Wighton’s unfamiliarity with the centre position, coupled with the loss of a genuine gamebreaker in Mitchell, was one of a number of brave selection gambles made by Fittler with the series on the line.
But didn’t it pay off.
Lining up against one of the most experienced Origin players on the ground in Will Chambers, Wighton showed tremendous drive and epitomised the effort culture Brad Fittler is developing.
The Canberra star was a defensive force across his two games in the starting side, and made a number of effective defensive reads when the Maroons were eagerly peppering the Blues’ line.
In attack, he also created havoc, particularly when using his big body to bend the defensive line and come out of trouble, as he averaged 124 metres gained and 32 post contact metres between Game Two and Three.
Fittler has made it known the performance and effort required to gain entry into this Blues side in years to come, and Wighton’s debut series will make for an interesting selection dilemma next series.
Despite being the captain of the Blues, Boyd Cordner’s efforts often go understated, and this series was no different. Yet time and time again Cordner was there deep inside the Blues’ half taking the tough carries, leading the kick chase and jamming his body in front of Queensland’s hard-hitting forwards.
Cordner is apparently a man of few words on the field – that’s where James Maloney comes in – but he is the definition of lead by actions.
Across the series, NSW’s brave skipper averaged 109 metres from 12 runs, to go along with his tireless defense through which he averaged 28 tackles.
When NSW gave up a two-try lead with 10 minutes to go in the decider, Blues fans would’ve cast their memories back to the countless times their side have faulted under pressure. But under Cordner, the Blues have developed a new layer of relentless courage, and it’s in those moments that you will always see Cordner in the thick of the action.
He would’ve gone down as one of the great players to never play State of Origin, but after 11 NRL seasons, Dale Finucane was finally gifted with an opportunity for Game Two, and was immense for New South Wales.
Thrust into the starting side to begin the Blues’ second game charge, the huge occasion in Perth never overawed Finucane, who himself has played in three grand finals.
Despite not being the biggest forward, the 174-gamer relentlessly threw his body at the line and found his front on numerous occasions, often when his side needed it most.
His experienced shone through across both games in which he featured, as he continued to show up in the middle, and no doubt he will become a fixture in Fittler’s squad in the coming years.