State of Origin: Queensland beats New South Wales 18-14
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Winger Dane Gagai scored two second-half tries and Queensland overcame an 8-0 halftime deficit to beat New South Wales 18-14 in the rugby league State of Origin series opener on Wednesday.
Corey Oates also scored for Queensland, which has won all but two series since 2006 between the bitter state rivals. The exceptions were 2014 and last year, when New South Wales won the first two matches in the best-of-three series.
Outnumbered in defense, man-of-the-match Gagai picked off an errant New South Wales pass and raced 95 meters to score and put Queensland ahead 12-8 in the 67th minute. Four minutes later, Gagai, who ran for 270 meters in the match, latched on to a Kalyn Ponga cutout pass to score his second try.
New South Wales made it close with five minutes remaining when Jake Trbojevic scored between the posts, but Queensland held on with some strong defense to claim the win before more than 52,000 fans at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
Josh Morris scored New South Wales’ first try in the 20th minute.
Queensland, which had three tries disallowed, was playing without Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cameron Smith. They were all mainstays of Queensland’s more than a decade of dominance in the series but have retired from representative play.
Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans said his team had to remain positive despite the disallowed tries.
“We could have been going in at 18-8,” Cherry-Evans said of the halftime score. “Things didn’t go our way. We wanted to play an attacking style of football that worked in the first half.”
He said Gagai “lights the game up.”
“For a winger you want them to be able to do all the tough stuff,” Cherry-Evans added. “His carries were fantastic.”
The winner of the first game has gone on to win 27 of the past 37 series, including eight of the past 10. The second Origin match is scheduled for June 23 in Perth, with the third July 10 in Sydney.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters’ team contained seven changes from the side that beat New South Wales 18-12 in the last match of last year’s series. New South Wales coach Brad Fittler named five new caps but included 11 players from the squad that won last year’s series.
“Obviously we’re hugely disappointed,” Fittler said. “We thought we should have been better from the point of view of working together in defense. If anything that let us down.”