Sitting in a country NSW pub wearing a maroon jersey in what could only be described as a wardrobe malfunction, I looked on eagerly as NSW and Queensland once again took battle to determine which state would reign supreme. By now we had witnessed 160 minutes of grueling and physical rugby league without either side getting any leverage over the other, and Victorians had finally realised who actually participated in the State of Origin. Nonetheless we witnessed one of the most nail biting deciders in Origin history where both teams showed that the difference between the states is much closer than Queensland’s seven straight series victories indicates.
After being the top story in every tabloid, website and newspaper for the past week, the match exceeded expectations by living up to the hype that any journalist could ever possibly generate. It was almost the perfect start for NSW. After overcoming a modern day brawl where players from either side stood around at close proximity and gently held each other’s jerseys for several seconds, the boys down South jumped to an early 8-0 lead when Brett Morris crossed the line in the 13th minute. However, in true Queensland fashion, quick tries to Boyd, Thurston and Hodges all before halftime meant that within a blink of an eye NSW went to the break with a 16-8 halftime deficit.
Queensland knew they had one hand on the trophy, but with their backs to the wall NSW came out of the sheds with a point to prove that was long overdue. A touch of Brett Stewart magic cut the gap to 2, and when Todd Carney slotted the sideline conversion from a Josh Morris try, suddenly the scores were level at 20 each!
Back at the bar and the locals had started to gain hope. More beers were consumed and the cheers became louder with every linebreak or big hit. The patrons started to dream of a possible NSW victory.
However, Cooper Cronk turned all those dreams into dust when in the 74th minute he snapped a long distance field goal to stun the NSW supporters. The bar became dead silent as they attempted to register what they had just witnessed. Surely the Blues could not again. Six straight series defeats had been too much, will the Maroons really get a seventh?
NSW had one last chance to save the game, and a foray into the Queensland half gave the faithful a faint glimmer of rare Origin glory. However, a sloppy play-the-ball and a missed drop goal meant that for the seventh year running, Queensland had managed to overcome a NSW resurgence and once again claim their title as Australia’s rugby league Capital.
The effect on the bar was devastating. The lone Queenslander celebrated euphorically only to leave the bar just as quickly as the other patrons began to throw their schooners at him. Grown men began to shed tears, drowning their sorrows in the six Tooheys they had just ordered. Although the only winner in Tamworth that night was the bar which was drunk dry (and any Queenslander I suppose), there was enough encouraging signs in the NSW performance to suggest that maybe next year is the year that the drought will finally end.