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Greatest Series Comebacks

NSW have their backs to the wall ahead of game two of the 2023 State of Origin series at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday, reeling from their defeat in Adelaide and hit by injuries. But the Blues can take heart from the fact 10 teams have come from one-nil down to lift the Origin shield. Here’s how the sides ‘Freddy’s’ charges are hoping to emulate did it. 

1982 – Arise, ‘King’ Wally

Queensland’s triumph in the inaugural three-match series required a fight-back only one other team managed in State of Origin’s first 12 years. NSW claimed their first Origin win in game one – 20-16 at Lang Park – but Queensland squared up with a tense 11-7 victory in the second clash, also staged in Brisbane. The first decider was also the first Origin held in Sydney. The SCG showdown was forever immortalised by an in-goal mix-up between Blues fullback Phil Sigsworth and debutant winger Phil Duke, which allowed Maroons skipper and man-of-the-match Wally Lewis to pounce for a series-winning try in a 10-5 result.

1987 – ‘Prince’ Alfie spearheads Maroons’ revival

Unwanted by even his coach and senior teammates, Queensland’s pint-sized halfback Allan Langer produced one of the great debuts in the ’87 series opener – but it wasn’t enough to prevent NSW pulling off a 20-16 win at Lang Park via Mark McGaw’s miraculous last-gasp try. Staring down the barrel of three straight series defeats, the Maroons overturned a halftime deficit on an SCG quagmire to keep the rubber alive 12-6. The decider was arguably the finest, most dramatic match of Origin’s first decade, with Langer man-of-the-match in Queensland’s nerve-shredding 10-8 success after a scoreless second half.

1994 – Blues overcome Coyne miracle

The 1994 series has become so synonymous with Queensland back Mark Coyne’s iconic match-winning try in the Sydney Football Stadium opener that it’s easy to forget NSW went on to win the series. The Blues recovered from the 16-12 heartbreaker to shut out the Maroons 14-0 in front of a then Australian-record crowd at the MCG in game two. The decider centred around the emotion of Queensland skipper Mal Meninga’s impending retirement, but it was another old-stager in his final Origin – NSW hooker Ben Elias – who grabbed man-of-the-match honours in a dominant 27-12 win in Brisbane.

2002 – Maroons peg back new-look Blues

Queensland recovered from a 32-4 thrashing in the Sydney series opener to an Andrew Johns-led NSW side featuring eight debutant to retain the Origin shield in 2002. The Maroons made a host of changes for game two in Brisbane and – despite an infamous debut from winger Justin Hodges – squared the ledger with a memorable 26-18 victory on the back of a Lote Tuqiri hat-trick. The Blues looked home in the Stadium Australia decider, up 18-14 in the dying seconds after running in two quick tries following a farcical no-try ruling against Darren Lockyer. But the Maroons conjured one of Origin’s greatest escapes, retiring 35-year-old man-of-the-match Langer firing a pass to back-rower Dane Carlaw, who embarked on a 40-metre run to the try-line. Tuqiri sprayed the essentially academic conversion, Queensland retaining the Origin crown via the 18-all result as the previous year’s champions.

2005 – ‘Joey’ rescues NSW

Queensland utility Matt Bowen’s intercept of NSW halfback Brett Kimmorley’s pass in golden point of the 2005 series opener – giving the Maroons a 24-20 win after the Blues had fought back from 19-0 down – left the Ricky Stuart-coached defending champs in a bind. Andrew Johns had played just one game in the previous two months due to a broken jaw, but he was named as Kimmorley’s replacement and NSW’s saviour…and responded with arguably the most dominant individual display in Origin history. ‘Joey’s’ genius orchestrated a 32-22 victory at home after Queensland had led at halftime. Johns, hat-trick hero Matt King and man-of-the-match Anthony Minichiello were outstanding as NSW won a decider in Brisbane for just the second time, powering to a 32-10 success.

2006 – Lockyer starts a dynasty

Queensland’s 17-16 loss in a game one nail-biter in Sydney left them on the cusp of a record fourth straight series loss. Instead, it proved the genesis of an unprecedented period of Origin dominance for the Maroons. New coach Mal Meninga put several Queensland greats on notice ahead of game two at Suncorp Stadium – and they responded to lead a stunning 30-6 reversal. Lockyer was man-of-the-match, while unheralded winger Adam Mogg scored an unforgettable debut double. Despite a wildly controversial video referee call that gave NSW a 14-4 lead in the Melbourne decider, Queensland stole the shield with two tries in the last eight minutes: a long-range classic to Brent Tate set up by Johnathan Thurston and the match-winner to Lockyer, who scooped up a loose pass by hapless Blues fullback Brett Hodgson to snatch a euphoric 16-14 win.

2008 – Next-gen leads Queensland to three straight

NSW were on course to reclaim Origin supremacy in 2008 after outmuscling and outplaying Queensland 18-10 in the series opener at home. The Maroons were without inspirational captain Lockyer for the entire series for the first time in over a decade, but Greg Inglis’ blockbusting display in game two – terrorising Steve Turner and Mark Gasnier, and laying on two long-range tries for wing debutant Darius Boyd – set up a rousing 30-0 win. The decider back in Sydney was a rockier ride, particularly after Lockyer’s replacement, Scott Prince, departed in the first half with a broken arm. But teenage winger Israel Folau’s spectacular first-half double kept the Cameron Smith-led Maroons in the match, before Thurston’s show-and-go to set up Billy Slater for a runaway try broke a lengthy 10-all stalemate and the Maroons held on for a six-point victory.

2013 – State against state, Maroons make it eight

Striving to end a seven-year Origin drought, NSW took the fight to Queensland – literally, with Paul Gallen slugging Nate Myles in an incident that inadvertently changed the face of modern rugby league – to win the opener 14-6 at home. It was the Blues’ first game one win in five years, but they were unable to wrap it up at Suncorp Stadium in game two (though they weren’t aided by the axing of James Tamou and Blake Ferguson for off-field incidents), with Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd starring in a 26-6 Maroons leveller. Queensland held on for a tense 12-10 win in the Sydney decider, a match perhaps most remembered for the bizarre interruption of a burly, nude pitch invader at a crucial point in the dying minutes.

2017 – ‘JT’s’ heroic final act

A comprehensive 28-4 win in the Suncorp Stadium opener was not enough for NSW to avoid an 11th series defeat in 12 years. The Blues looked home and hosed up 16-6 at halftime in front of 82,259 Sydney fans in game two, with Maroons linchpin Johnathan Thurston playing through the pain of a busted shoulder. Two Dane Gagai tries levelled the scores, however, before Thurston buried the sideline conversion in the 78th minute to give Queensland a remarkable 18-16 win. ‘JT’ was ruled out of a farewell Origin decider, but the damage to NSW’s psyche was already done after blowing their chance: Thurston’s replacement, Cameron Munster, had a blinder on debut and Valentine Holmes bagged a hat-trick to spearhead Queensland’s 22-6 victory, capping one of the great mid-series Origin revivals.

2019 – Back-to-back Blues

Queensland overturned an early 8-0 deficit to win the 2019 series opener 18-14, but Brad Fittler’s defending Origin champs rallied to a memorable triumph. A Tom Trbojevic hat-trick set up an emphatic 38-6 victory in game two in Perth, forcing a Sydney decider. The Blues were in danger of suffering some familiar pain at the hands of the never-say-die Maroons were they let a late lead slip, but with golden point beckoning perennial NSW punching Mitchell Pearce, who had never been part of a series-winning team despite debuting 11 years earlier, sparked a 70-metre movement finished off by James Tedesco with 30 seconds left. The last-gasp 26-20 victory gave the Blues consecutive series wins – and their first success from 1-0 down – for the first time since 2005.

 

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