Rabbitohs star in Origin I as Gagai's Maroons draw first blood

The quartet of Rabbitohs State of Origin representatives did their states and Club proud in Game I of the 2019 State of Origin series.

Dane Gagai was the hero of the night, scoring two match-defining tries in the second half and finishing with a monumental 270 running metres in a man of the match performance.

Blues representatives Damien Cook was strong in the middle making a team-high 45 tackles and running 132 metres, while Cameron Murray was a breath of fresh air, adding 112 metres, a try-assist and linebreak assist to his name. Cody Walker was also solid in his Origin debut, making the most of his chances and putting the Blues back into the contest in the final few minutes. 

It took Walker a few moments to get into the groove of the game, but his first impression on the match was a positive one, putting in a deft kick on fifth tackle to pin Queensland back in a play that got his side on the front foot.

Usually playing centre for the Rabbitohs, Gagai was a marvel for the Maroons, and nearly scored his tenth try in Origin ten minutes in, kicking ahead a loose pass only for it to be called back after knocking the ball on. 

A penalty right in front of the sticks on the next set gave New South Wales the chance to go ahead with a penalty goal, with Nathan Cleary giving them a 2-nil advantage after twelve minutes. 

Damien Cook made his presence known with a trademark linebreak soon after, taking advantage of the scattered defence as he took an offload from Knights front-rower David Klemmer to give the Blues a rare opportunity to score the first try of the match. 

The first meeting between Club teammates was on as a Cody Walker grubber was cleaned up by Gagai, who managed to get out of the in-goal in a huge play for his side. 

And the winger was nearly over soon after, with the right side of the Maroons breaking through the Blues' defence, only for a last-gasp tackle and clean up work from Cody Walker preventing a try. 

Cook then brought his silky kicking skills into the mix, forcing a dropout with a grubber that trapped Cameron Munster behind the try-line.

The Blues reaped the rewards on the next set, with veteran centre Josh Morris scoring the first try after a quarter of the match gone. 

Not to be deterred, Gagai put his Rabbitohs teammates and opponents on notice as he continued to threaten from his next kick return, bumping off defenders and making a strong carry to put the Maroons back in the contest.

It was tit for tat as the explosive running of Damien Cook continued to make a mockery of the Queensland ruck defence as he made another break up the middle of the field. Just as it looked like the Blues were over again, Gagai replied superbly, making a 40-metre break from the ensuing kick.  

Gagai's Maroons were nearly over a few sets later, but a knock-on to Dylan Napa saw the try disallowed.

With the first half nearly complete, Walker put his hand up with a scheming run,  going close to getting through the other side. 

Young gun Cameron Murray looked right at home, with his first run of the match seeing him tumble over and made a quick play the ball, allowing Cook space to put in a solid grubber kick. The young lock forward made his intentions known early on as a brilliant offload to his hooker gave the Blues the ascendency as the first half began to close.

The Rabbitohs hooker and five-eighth combination that had worked so well at NRL level nearly put the Blues over for their second try, but Gagai's Queensland defence was able to shut it down. 

Gagai's right side continued to question the Blues' defence, with the winger nearly going over just before the break only for Josh Addo-Carr to intercept the pass, and crossing the century mark in metres gained after forty. 

Damien Cook was also busy in defence, making 25 tackles at the break. 

A powerful run from Murray in the first half saw the Blues gain a penalty for a dangerous tackle around the neck, and just a few minutes later an error from the youngster eased pressure on the Maroons.

Early in the second half, it was Rabbitohs Origin 'veterans' Cook and Gagai who picked up from where they left off, with their running games adding spark to their respective sides.

After a seesawing first ten minutes, it was the Maroons who held the ascendency with the Blues contingent of Cook, Murray and Walker absorbing plenty in defence, and eventually, it was the other winger for Queensland, Corey Oates, who scored the first try. 

A fifth tackle penalty then nearly put the Maroons further ahead, with Gagai getting caught just short of the line, and Michael Morgan being held up by the desperate defence.

Walker's night ended after 56 minutes with coach Brad Fittler substituting him for bench utility Jack Wighton. 

The most contentious call of the night was made as Latrell Mitchell was deemed to have tackled Maroons backrower Matt Gillett before getting a chance to pounce on a grubber kick, with Mitchell being sent to the sin bin.

Down to twelve men, the Maroons opted to level the scores with a penalty goal, and suddenly it was New South Wales under the pump, with Murray throwing himself in the fray with some strong hits in defence.

In a tense period of the match, the Blues continued to weather the attack of the Maroons with a man down, with Cook looking to spark something for his side.

But just as the Blues looked to strike, Gagai was finally rewarded for his efforts, taking an intercept off a Wighton pass and running the length of the field to put his side ahead for the first time in the match.

It looked like the Maroons would get to seal the match as James Tedesco made an uncharacteristic error, with Gagai going over again and diving over spectacularly to score. 

With less than ten minutes left, Walker was back on for his second stint of the match, looking to take the game by the scruff with his team trailing, and hi impact was nearly immediate, combining with Rabbitohs teammate Cameron Murray to put Jake Trbojevic under the posts. 

In a tense final few minutes, a Walker cutout pass to Latrell Mitchell put the Blues in the box-seat to seal the match, but a knock-on from the visitors killed off any chance of a comeback, with Gagai's Maroons drawing first blood. 

 

Queensland Maroons 18 (Dane Gagai 2, Corey Oates, tries; Kalyn Ponga 2 goals; Kalyn Ponga penalty goal)

def

New South Wales Blues 14 (Josh Morris, Jake Trbojevic tries; Nathan Cleary 2 goals; Nathan Cleary penalty goal)

 

 

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