Thanks Billy! We’re going to miss you
BYE BYE Billy. This is the glorious script you deserved.
Courageous Queensland summoned every fibre of spirit to deny NSW a cleansweep and send retiring fullback Billy Slater out a winner in the Maroons' pulsating 18-12 victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Before 51,214 fans, the desperate Maroons overcame intermittent rain, the disappointment of a series loss and a furious NSW riposte to stave off the embarrassment of a 3-0 Blue-rinse.
It was a deserved triumph for the Maroons, with recalled halfback Daly Cherry-Evans superb as flying winger Valentine Holmes produced a double to bury the Blues in another Origin thriller.
Fittingly, it was a beautiful ending for Slater in his Origin captaincy debut.
Equalling Wally 'The King' Lewis with his 31st and final match for the Maroons, Slater clinched man-of-the-match honours for his sublime trysaving tackle on NSW winger Tom Trbojevic in the dying minutes.
It got better. He then received the Wally Lewis Medal as player-of-the-series, The King poetically present to dangle the award around Slater's neck as Maroons fans roared amid the rain.
It was controversial _ NSW hooker Damien Cook and Queensland's Cameron Munster had better claims _ but there is no denying Slater's Origin legacy
"I'm not taking this jersey off for a while," Slater beamed after the win.
"I feel pretty happy. I really wanted to deliver this win for the younger guys after we had nothing to show for the first two games."
Asked if he was surprised by his medal win, Slater said: "A little bit, I only played two games this year. To have this in my cupboard after what I've gone through means a lot."
While Billy got his dream finale, it wasn't always easy nor guaranteed, with NSW overcoming a near-flawless Queensland first half to steal a shock 12-8 lead at half-time.
But with the Maroons on their knees, they summoned their special spirit, with tries to Holmes (52nd minute) and Cherry-Evans (58th) driving the dagger into the Blues as Queensland clawed back respectability.
While Cherry-Evans proved he is Origin class, centre Dane Gagai was also magnificent, amassing 183 metres and four tackle busts as Greg Inglis' replacement.
"It was important from a team point of view to get this win and send Billy out a winner," Queensland coach Kevin Walters said.
"I wasn't worried at half-time. I knew NSW made a lot more tackles than us and I thought they may help, but the Blues just kept coming.
"This win sets up some great series for the next few years, the margin is so minimal between the sides."
Blues coach Brad Fittler lamented Queensland's fighting spirit in the clutch moments.
"Losing just stinks," he said. "To win 3-0 you have to do some special things. Things just didn't go our way."
The first half was one of the most brutal and baffling in Origin's 38-year history.
That the Blues went to the sheds leading 12-8 _ after being under siege for 32 minutes _ was testament to their composure, defensive application and Queensland's offensive conservatism.
It was a tribute to NSW's defensive heart that Queensland's opening points in the 11th minute came not via slick execution, but freakish opportunism.
With their first genuine raid, NSW fullback James Tedesco threw a cut-out pass and watched in horror as Maroons winger Holmes swooped, racing 95 metres to score for 6-0.
Even at 8-0, there was a sense Queensland's lead needed to be greater. Momentum shifts are inevitable in Origin and when it occurred off the back of a dismal Queensland blunder in the 37th minute, NSW pulled the trigger.
Two tries in three minutes. Bang. The Blues were back.
A Cameron Munster intercept pass enabled NSW winger Tom Trbojevic to race 90 metres and when speedy hooker Damien Cook sucked in Josh McGuire to put Tedesco over 13 seconds before half-time, the Maroons went to the sheds shellshocked trailing 12-8.
With the series gone, the Maroons had every right to capitulate. Instead, they found the resolve to exhilarate.
In the 52nd minute, Slater utilised his speed to ignite the raid that gave Holmes his second try and when Munster stepped through in midfield for Cherry-Evans to finish, the Maroons surged clear at 18-12.
The final quarter was as fierce, willing and desperate as any Origin encounter. Their hands on hips, the Blues looked gone, yet somehow found the energy reserves to launch a series of furious last-ditch plays.
With two minutes to play, NSW winger Josh Addo-Carr streaked away and passed to Trbojevic, who set sail for the tryline. But that man Slater, the greatest fullback we have seen, was there to save Queensland.
He's done it so many times. He did it again. Farewell Billy.
QUEENSLAND 18 (V Holmes 2 D Cherry-Evans tries V Holmes 3 goals) bt NEW SOUTH WALES 12 (J Tedesco T Trbojevic tries N Cleary 2 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Gerard Sutton, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 51,214.