David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

League: Queensland grind out game one win

Cooper Cronk of the Maroons celebrates victory after game one of the State Of Origin series. Photo / Getty
Cooper Cronk of the Maroons celebrates victory after game one of the State Of Origin series. Photo / Getty

New South Wales 4 (Boyd Cordner try)

Queensland 6 (Dane Gagai try, Johnathan Thurston penalty goal)

Queensland's search for back-to-back interstate titles began with a tightly fought victory over New South Wales in the opening State of Origin encounter at ANZ Stadium.

In contrasting fashion to last year's emphatic 52-6 game three series deciding win in Brisbane, Queensland were forced to grind out a scoreless second-half, after a first-half penalty to five-eighth Johnathan Thurston and try to wing Dane Gagai edged out New South Wales' lone try to back-rower Boyd Cordner.

With just eight players remaining from that humiliating match, the new-look Blues, including four debutants and four recalled players, took the game to the visitors, but conceded the lead late in the first half and were unable to capitalise on numerous attacking opportunities late in the game.

The home side dominated the visitors up-front, with Blues captain Paul Gallen and front-rowers Aaron Woods and James Tamou leading the way, and bench forwards Greg Bird, David Klemmer and Andrew Fifita maintaining the rage.

Playing off that momentum, New South Wales' new halves pairing of rookie Adam Reynolds and the recalled James Maloney were composed and accurate in their roles, but could not conjure the points needed.

The Maroons played most of the game on the back foot, with only Greg Inglis and Corey Parker providing consistent go-forward or creativity, but once again they showed their trademark patience and composure to clinch the result.

Despite being reduced to 16 men when replacement Michael Morgan departed with a head-knock, they found the resolve to repel relentless Blues attack inside a dramatic last quarter.

Queensland captain Cameron Smith, became the most-capped player in Origin history in his 37th outing, surpassing fellow Maroons great Darren Lockyer, and the No9 believed the match typified the spirit of Origin football.

"It's nice now to have a little celebration but I thought the boys were outstanding tonight," Smith told Channel Nine.

"We had a couple of injuries to Justin O'Neil and we lost Morgo (Morgan), a pretty important part of our game plane, but tonight was just all about effort.

"Origin, it's not about how much talent you've got it's about how tough you are when the going gets tough and the boys really dug in deep."

In a tight opening half, the visitors claimed the early lead with a Thurston penalty before the Blues capitalised on four straight sets to hit back with the opening try, when Maloney put his former Sydney Roosters teammate Cordner over for a 4-2 lead after 25 minutes.

Despite a period of sustained dominance from New South Wales, Queensland hit back against the run of play, halfback Cooper Cronk and Thurston working an overlap for Gagai score in the corner to reclaim a two-point lead in the 37th minute.

Soon after the resumption, a try-saving tackle from Maloney denied Gagai a double, but the Maroons, struggling with the energy of the Blues attack, began suffering the effects of a torrid physical battle.

New South Wales were denied when centre Josh Morris was unable to ground the ball and a contentious knock-on ruling cruelled further attacking momentum before the Maroons closed the game out.

Blues coach Laurie Daley will now look to rethink his side's approach and plot their revival, while debutante Queensland coach Kevin Walters will relish the chance to complete a series win in his first two games in charge, when the two sides resume hostilities in match two at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on June 22.

- NZ Herald

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