Queensland regain Origin crown amid biggest pandemic crowd
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Brisbane (Australia) (AFP)
Queensland, roared on by a capacity 52,000 home crowd, held off a storming New South Wales finish to regain Australia's State of Origin rugby league crown 20-14 in Brisbane on Wednesday.
The Maroons denied the Blues' bid for a triple Origin series win with a committed effort before the largest sporting crowd in the world during the global pandemic.
New Zealand's rugby union Bledisloe Cup hosted the second largest crowd since coronavirus hit, attracting 46,000 fans in October.
Cameron Munster, who was concussed early in his side's 34-10 drubbing in Sydney last week, masterminded Queensland's Origin triumph and veteran coach Wayne Bennett's first since 2001 in his Origin return.
"It was the first series win without the big boys (star retirements), and the boys have done a really great job. Wayne (Bennett), Mal (Meninga), the coaching staff, got us up tonight," said Munster, who was named man of the series.
"Full credit to our big boys (forwards), they played outstanding tonight. There's no better feeling putting the Maroon (jersey) on. It's the pinnacle of rugby league."
It was also Queensland's first State of Origin series victory since 2017 before NSW's wins in 2018 and last year.
Queensland's success was down to their intense commitment and pressure on the favoured NSW team with their unrelenting defence.
Queensland were up for the contest before their roaring home crowd and scored in the opening four minutes through winger Valentine Holmes.
NSW hit back five minutes later when Nathan Cleary's high kick was spilled by debutant fullback Corey Allan with James Tedesco on the spot to ground the ball for the try.
But NSW's hopes were rocked midway through the opening half when key player and skipper Tedesco was knocked out by an accidental knee in a tackle by burly prop Josh Papalii and he was led groggily from the field and ruled out of the game with concussion.
Coach Brad Fittler was forced to use interchange forward Isaah Yeo in the centres and switch Clint Gutherson to Tedesco's fullback spot.
Queensland applied the pressure on the NSW defence with the Blues having little possession and territory against the relentless Maroons.
The breakthrough came three minutes before half-time when Munster conjured a try for winger Eldrick Lee with a clever cross-field kick to open space.
Valentine Holmes' conversion gave the home side a deserved 12-6 lead at the break.
Rising young forward star Harry Grant capped a magnificent Origin debut with his try midway through the second half to stretch Queensland's lead to 20-6 before NSW hit back in the final 15 minutes.
Winger Daniel Tupou scored a converted try and Cleary's penalty goal inched NSW to within a converted try but they were denied by Queensland's spirited resistance despite being reduced to 12 men with fullback Allan's late sin-binning.
It meant that not since 2005 have the Blues won a decider in Brisbane, now losing the last five live games in Queensland.
© 2020 AFP