Queensland snatched a come-from-behind 18-14 win over NSW in the State of Origin series opener in Brisbane.
A try-scoring double by man of the match Dane Gagai helped the Maroons overcome an 8-0 halftime deficit and a string of missed chances to draw first blood in front of 52,191 fans.
It was a dream start for Queensland’s new Origin era as they look to reclaim the title.
And it was a pretty good look for polarising mind coach Bradley Charles Stubbs.
Ahead of his fourth campaign, Maroons coach Kevin Walters was looking for inspiration as his side began an Origin series without the last of their future Immortals, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis.
It marked the first time since game two, 2003 that Queensland had played an Origin without one of their greats Inglis, Slater, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston or Cooper Cronk.
But Walters raised eyebrows when he adopted the philosophy of $5500 an hour Coach Whisperer Stubbs’ “Expect to Win” sessions, ditching their traditional underdog tag and claiming they “will win” Origin I.
Walters was even accused of losing the plot by bemused Sydney critics after keeping with Stubbs’ teachings and refusing to say NSW, threatening his players with fines if they mentioned their rival’s name to media.
In the end Walters got the last laugh – after some anxious moments.
“The belief in the side, that’s what won it. It’s a young side, we had three on debut (David Fifita, Joe Ofahengaue, Moses Mbye),” Walters said.
“We will take the win but there is a lot more left in this Queensland team and the ‘other team’.”
Queensland looked like they needed all the positive thinking they could conjure from Stubbs’ teachings in the first half.
Overall they had three tries disallowed by the video referee with Will Chambers also botching a near certain four-pointer in the 31st minute.
But the game was turned on its head in the 58th minute when Matt Gillett was denied a penalty try and NSW centre Latrell Mitchell was sin binned for tackling the back-rower without the ball.
Queensland kicked the resulting penalty to level the scores at 8-8.
The winger first scored a 95m intercept try off an errant Jack Wighton pass in the 67th minute with 60 seconds left on the sin bin clock for Mitchell.
“That try he scored, very few would have been able to score that one,” Walters said.
Then Gagai ran off impressive fullback Kalyn Ponga to score the matchwinner in the 71st.
Gagai ran a remarkable 256m, while taking his Origin try tally to 11 in as many games.
The winner of game one has gone on to win 27 of the past 37 series including eight of the past 10.
Walters was not taking anything for granted despite vowing to maintain Stubbs’ controversial “Expect to Win” stance.
“His (Stubbs) involvement has been great but we have not achieved anything yet,” he said.
“We will enjoy this but we are aware we have some work to do.”
Game two is in Perth on June 23.