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Maroons defy the odds to win back the shield

Queensland are the State of Origin champions for 2022, after outlasting New South Wales 22-12 in the third and deciding game at Suncorp Stadium.

The Maroons reclaim the shield for the second time in three years and 13th time in the past 17.

Despite a strong record in deciding matches over recent years, the Queenslanders went into their home match as underdogs after copping a 44-12 defeat at Optus Stadium in Game II, as well as losing Cameron Munster and Murray Taulagi to COVID-19 protocols.

History was against both sides going into the decider: no state had ever won an Origin series after conceding more than 40 points in a match, while the Blues had not won a deciding match in Brisbane since 2005 and had only won one decider anywhere since, in 2019.

A tense and dramatic start saw both sides lose key players, with Cameron Murray ruled out for the rest of the match after being concussed in the opening seconds, while Selwyn Cobbo and Lindsay Collins also suffered the same injury and took no further part for the Maroons.

Ten minutes later the home side struck first through Valentine Holmes, who exposed a gap between Stephen Crichton and Daniel Tupou to score their first try, the successful conversion seeing the Maroons take a 6-0 lead.

But the Blues would hit back not long after, with Jarome Luai scoring to level the scores five minutes later, and when Jacob Saifiti scored next to the posts with less than ten minutes to go it was 12-6 in their favour.

Saifiti’s try came not long after veteran winger Corey Oates had a try disallowed due to a forward pass, but after pressing the Blues’ line in the dying minutes they pegged a try back right on halftime, with Kurt Capewell scoring off a brilliant kick by Harry Grant.

The unsuccessful conversion by Holmes saw the Maroons enter the break behind 12-10, but they still had the belief among themselves that they could pull off the win in front of their home fans.

A spiteful start to the second half saw Dane Gagai and Matt Burton sin-binned for fighting, leaving both teams with 12 men for the following ten minutes, during which neither side scored.

Matt Burton sin bin

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Knights captain Kalyn Ponga then scored with 20 minutes to go to give the Maroons a 16-12 lead, and for much of the final quarter they trapped the Blues in their own 20, both in attack and defence, as they looked to protect their advantage.

Just as NSW were able to get out of their defensive half, an attempted chip kick by Nathan Cleary was smothered by Ben Hunt, who ran over half the length of the field to score the series-winning try and Holmes’ successful conversion extended the lead to the 22-12 winning score.

It marked a memorable debut series for new Maroons coach Billy Slater, who joined Graham Lowe (1991), Paul Vautin (1995), Mal Meninga (2006) and Kevin Walters (2016) in winning a series for Queensland in his first attempt.

Broncos forward Patrick Carrigan, playing in his first series, was named the Wally Lewis Medallist as the best player over the course of the three matches.

The outcome means the Sydney Harbour Bridge will have to be lit up maroon, after NSW premier Dominic Perrottet lost his first Origin bet against his long-serving Queensland counterpart Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Meantime, the fallout is set to begin south of the border, with the future of coach Brad Fittler set to be discussed.

While they did win Game II at Suncorp Stadium last year to seal the series, their latest defeat marked their sixth consecutive in a decider played in Brisbane dating back to 2011, also losing in 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2020.

Further, they have also now not won a series after hosting Game I in Sydney since 2004, highlighting their mental fragility when it is tied.

It could be argued that NSW were over-reliant on their Penrith contingent, who continue to dominate at club level and will surely use the series defeat as motivation to ensure a successful defence of their premiership come October 2.

As for the future of Origin, it’s expected that the format of playing all three matches on a Wednesday will return, though the matches to be played two weeks, apart as opposed to the traditional three weeks.

To finish off, congratulations to Queensland, the State of Origin champions for 2022, and to rookie coach Billy Slater for whom this is just the beginning of what could be a distinguished coaching career following an impressive playing career for his club, state and country.

And commiserations to New South Wales, whose coach Brad Fittler’s future remains uncertain after their second series defeat in three years.

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