INSTAGRAM | @nswblues

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE pride as a source of motivation. Last night NSW managed to deny Queensland an Origin sweep with a resounding 24-10 victory at a packed Accor Stadium in Brisbane. While we’re on motivation, you also probably shouldn’t write off a wily and wounded coach who’s been backed into a corner. The victory may have saved Brad Fittler’s job. 

Fitler told a radio station earlier this week that the slings and arrows he’s copped in the wake of his side’s dismal showings in the first two Origin games can’t break through the defences of his meditation-mounted mind. The sentries of mindfulness, he said, (in not so many words), repel even the cruellest and baseless of criticisms. Good stuff from Freddy.

At any rate, his selections, or gambles, as many pundits called them going into the game, paid off, none more so than the decision to play debutante Bradman Best at centre. The sensationally aspirational, possibly nominally deterministic-named debutante scored two tries and showed quick hands to set-up a rampaging Josh Addo-Carr for a crucial first half try.

Fitler’s decision to replace the Penrith-dominated attack he used in the first two games with a South Sydney spine, also paid dividends, as the Blues’ offense finally looked cohesive. It helped that Cody Walker played a blinder in the halves, while under-fire skipper James Tedesco shrugged off his woes from the first two games with solid kicking and stout defence. The tackle count – 313-288 NSW’s way – showed the desperation the Blues mustered . . . when it no longer really mattered. They’ll be asking themselves where that desperation was in games 1 and 2 but it’s pretty simple. Pride is a mental peptide, the prospect of humiliation steels resolve. Queensland would have loved a clean sweep but it hardly puts the same fire in the belly.

Blues coach Brad Fittler celebrates with Bradman Best of the Blues. | MARK KOLBE / GETTY IMAGES
AJ Brimson and Moeaki Fotuaika of the Maroons pose with the State of Origin Shield after winning the series 2-1. | MARK KOLBE / GETTY IMAGES

The game began with each side probing the other’s line, but despite early penalties to the Blues, it was the Maroons who got on the scoreboard first, when a Cameron Munster kick saw David Fifita crash the line to score in the 14th minute. The Blues came thundering back six minutes later, when a side-stepping Addo-Carr nearly scored in the left corner. They quickly gathered and headed right as Mitchell Moses found debutant Keaon Koloamatangi, who tapped it on to Brian To’o, who scored in the right corner to make it 6-4. It was 6-all soon after when heavy contact on the kicker saw the Blues awarded a penalty goal.

Best showed his quicksilver hands in the 21st minute to hit the flying Addo-Carr, who hit turbo from the half-way line before kicking and retrieving from 20m out for 10-6. Shortly after, the South Sydney crew stamped their imprint on the game. Cameron Murray made an initial incision before Damien Cook found Walker, who accelerated forward before hitting Best for the first of his two tries. Suddenly the Blues held a 10-point lead.

Queensland came back just before half-time as Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow got the step on To-o to reduce the deficit to six points, before a late penalty to the Blues made it 18-10 at the main break. As expected, the Maroons came out hard in the second half and certainly had their chances, but the Blues defence withstood the assault. Fittingly, it was the maligned Tedesco, cheered on by an exuberant and suddenly not-so Zen Fitler, who broke through the Queensland line before finding Best for his second try to make it 24-10. 

Best made headlines this week when he admitted his “hate” for Queensland. He was less belligerent after his stellar debut, telling reporters, “Playing outside the best players in the world and the boys put me in space, which was good. It was a dream come true for sure.” Nice.

Walker’s dominant game was rewarded with man-of the-match honours while Maroons forward Reuben Cotter was judged the player of the series. Most importantly, the Origin shield stays in Queensland for another year.

The question now is whether Fittler and Tedesco have played their final games as coach and captain? If so, an era’s over.

Bradman Best of the Blues celebrates scoring a try with Cameron Murray of the Blues. | BRENDON THORNE / GETTY IMAGES

NSW Blue player ratings

1. James Tedesco — 8

Class shone through with a decisive second half that saw him rack up 223 metres and set up Best for his second try. 

2. Brian To’o — 7.5

The Panthers winger notched up a game-high 235 metres while also scoring his side’s first try.

3. Bradman Best — 9

Hate speech has its place? Kidding, the Knights centre had a debut for the ages.  

4. Stephen Crichton — 6.5

Gave away a penalty when NSW had their opposition hemmed in on their own try line, which led to the Maroons scoring the first try of the match. An awesome tackle on Reuben Cotter saved a try late in the game. 

5. Josh Addo-Carr — 8

The electrifying winger was a constant threat and his first half try was magic. Pity a hamstring injury saw him finish on the sidelines.

6. Cody Walker — 9.5

Fitler’s decision to recall the five-eighth bore fruit. Finished with just a single try assist but was instrumental in the Blues’ forays in attack. A deserving man of the match. 

7. Mitch Moses — 8

The halfback’s running and kicking games were on point. Looked at home out there.

8. Jake Trbojevic — 7

Coming off a calf injury, the Manly forward provided sturdy defence.

9. Damien Cook — 7

Back in his usual position of hooker, Cook looked far more comfortable on the paddock. 

10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard — 7

The prop was busy early racking up 60-odd metres with the ball and kept it up in his second stint. Solid outing. 

11. Liam Martin — 6.5

An early dropped ball probably dented his confidence but he was a muscular presence in defence with 31 tackles. 

12. Keaon Koloamatangi — 8

The young backrower had 32 tackles, along with a try assist and 62 metres. 

13. Cameron Murray — 8.5

The South Sydney captain was critical in his favoured position of lock and finished with a team-high 33 tackles and 114m. 

14. Isaah Yeo — 7.5

Came off the bench but still managed 27 tackles and just shy of 100 metres. 

15. Jacob Saifiti — 6

The Newcastle forward came off second best in an early tackle then got battered in a hit-up at the start the second half. Kept fighting. Gutsy. 

16. Reece Robson — 5

Started in the second half but didn’t have a lot of impact with just 20 metres in carries. 

17. Clint Gutherson — 2

Only got three minutes at the end when Addo-Carr came off with a hamstring injury. 


These are the NRL’s highest paid players in 2023