Bowen brilliance rescues Maroons from heartbreak
Thursday May 26, 2005

After leading 19-0 early in the second half, to have been beaten would have been absolute heartbreak for Queensland in the opening State of Origin clash at Suncorp Stadium.

However, that was the scenario they faced as Craig Fitzgibbon calmly converted Danny Buderus' 72nd minute try to give the Blues a 20-19 lead with just 8 minutes left on the clock.  Queensland needed another miracle.  Could they deliver for their 52484 fans on hand at the sacred Lang Park turf?

Skipper Darren Lockyer tried with a 35 metre penalty shot attempt with four minutes on the clock, but it sailed wide.

So it was up to Cowboy debutant Johnathon Thurston, slotting a pressure field goal - including a ricochet off Buderus - to level the scores with just two minutes on the clock.

Lockyer tried a miracle field goal attempt from halfway but it didn't go close, and that assured Golden Point extra time - the same scenario as last year's series opener.  On that occasion a field goal snap from Shaun Timmins won the game for New South Wales 9-8.  Queensland would not allow a repeat.

Almost a mirror image of that fateful night, New South Wales won the toss and elected to kick off.  Queensland made good territory on their first set and placed the ball deep through Lockyer to ensure the Blues had to run it from within their own half.  On the last, Trent Barrett inexplicably attempted a grubber kick on half way.  Queensland regained possession with a real chance to push for a field goal.

On the last they sat 30 metres out. Lockyer stood behind the ruck and struck the ball well, but it slid just to the left of the uprights. 

The Blues worked the ball out of their own half, and on the 4th tackle halfback Brett Kimmorley tried to shock the Maroons with a face ball to centre Matt Cooper, who was trying to get outside his man.  His man happened to be Cowboys sensation Matt Bowen, and he read the play like a book.  Charging out of the line, Bowen snapped the ball out of mid air and galloped, arm raised, 40 metres untouched, as his delirious teammates celebrated behind him as he touched down beside the posts.

Queensland had won 24-20!

It capped off a night of sporting drama at its absolute best.  The Maroons dominated a gripping opening half with more than 60% of possession to lead 13-0 - and threw in a Jeckyll and Hyde performance from interchange hardman Carl Webb to boot. Webb first took exception to a high shot from NSW prop Luke Bailey on Chris Flannery, running in and dragging Bailey to the ground.

Webb was penalised.  From the tap Bailey took the ball up and Webb monstered him in a brilliant tackle, and then went too far with a forearm to Bailey's head.  Again, Webb was penalised and lucky not to be sin binned.

From the ensuing tap, Bailey ran it again, and this time Webb crunched him and unseated the ball, then regathered, and then earnt a penalty as the Blues stripped the ball off him late.  From villain, to hero, to villain, to hero, all in a matter of 90 seconds.

Queensland also had some help from above, when an inside pass from Lockyer bounced off Billy Slater's left knee with his hands perilously close.  Ty Williams, on debut, ran through to scoop up the loose ball and score under the posts. After numerous looks, the video referee ruled there was enough doubt as to whether Slater made contact with the ball with his hands to award the try, and Queensland led 10-0.

Another penalty goal and a field goal from Lockyer extended the lead to 13-0.

Shortly after the break Luke Rooney went within inches of scoring, only to be denied by the best in the business - Matt Sing, holding him up over the line.

Moments later Michael Crocker ran a nice angle off Lockyer to score, Smith's conversion giving Queensland what looked certain to be a match winning 19-0 lead.

But then Webb became the villain again, dropping the ball third tackle from the kick off 30 metres out from his own line. Almost immediately Rooney had his revenge, Cooper sending a neat pass for the winger to score.  Fitzgibbon's conversion sailed wide.

Not long after Anthony Minichiello broke through the clutches of Lockyer to charge up field, Mark Gasnier looming in support to score.  Kimmorley's conversion was shocking but the Blues were back within 2 converted tries down 19-8.

When a wildly forward pass was ignored and Cooper kicked ahead, Queensland made a hash of the clean up and Fitzgibbon was jogging on the spot to score. His conversion signalled danger signs for Queensland as they led just 19-14.

And when Matt King skipped down the sideline and beat Crocker's desperate cover tackle, then sent a wild forward pass inside to Buderus - which again was missed - the skipper ran away to score, and Fitzgibbon's conversion gave the Blues the lead with 20 unanswered points.

It was the epitome of Origin football. As tough as it gets, plenty of skill and excitement, and a result that you were never sure of until the referee blew full time.  It was without doubt the best Origin clash in more than a decade, eclipsing the thriller to open 1994 when Mark Coyne scored his miracle try.

Ironically, it was that year that New South Wales won the series after losing the opening game.  A feat they had never achieved before, and have not achieved since.  Could that be an omen?

There were heroes on both sides.  Most notably for Queensland were their big forwards, Petero Civoniceva, Brad Thorn, Ben Ross but without doubt the pick was Steve Price.  The Warriors captain was tireless and many times beat the first man with his trademark fend. Crocker and the much maligned Chris Flannery had their strongest Origin performances in the back row, while Webb was a walking contradiction, but never dull. Hooker Cameron Smith was a warhorse throughout, and his 5 goals from 5 attempts was crucial.

Wingers Williams and Sing did a fine job, while Slater played a strong hand from the back.  Shaun Berrigan always looked dangerous in the centres, while Paul Bowman recovered from a head knock early on to play strongly, with Casey McGuire an adequate fill in off the bench.  Halves Lockyer and Thurston controlled the game beautifully, with Lockyer's long kicking game absolutely superb.

And that man Bowen came off the bench in the final 20 minutes and did was he's there to do - when it counted.

Most importantly, all 5 Broncos have come through the match unscathed. Although forwards Civoniceva and Thorn may be rested, Lockyer, McGuire and Berrigan are likely to backup against South Sydney on Saturday evening at the same venue.

The Blues had their own heroes. Back rower Nathan Hindmarsh tackled himself til he was physically ill in the first 25 minutes. Craig Fitzgibbon worked hard cleaning up the ruck as always, although his tackle count of 50+ was inflated by the number of times he's the third man in to a tackle all but completed. Prop Bailey had a mixed bag, while his front row partner Jason Ryles was well contained by the Queensland pack. 

Lock Ben Kennedy was probably the pick of the Blues, always looking dangerous with the ball and stinging in defence.

Out wide the backs rarely saw the ball but when they did, Gasnier, Cooper, King, Minichiello and Rooney always looked dangerous.  Halves Barrett and Kimmorley were poor, and there's a very good chance Kimmorley will lose his number 7 jersey to Andrew Johns should the Newcastle skipper, once rated as the best player in the world but who has been besieged by injuries in the past 3 years to lose that crown, get through his latest comeback next week against the Broncos unscathed.

The Blues will regroup for the return match at the cursed Telstra Stadium in three weeks time. The Maroons have never won there since the ground was first used in 1999.

But those records are made to be broken.

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