State of Origin: Maroons left suffering from no-try blues
NEW South Wales set the scene for a monumental series decider at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium next month with a highly-contentious 26-18 win in front of the biggest crowd in State of Origin history at the MCG.
Before more than 91,000 fans, many of them regular AFL followers, the Blues showed they had improved considerably from last year's breakthrough series' win to answer every challenge a gallant Queensland side, renowned for its never-say-die character, threw at them.
The Maroons, however, had every right to question a no-try call against centre Greg Inglis in the 68th minute when the South Sydney captain grabbed a loose ball and sprinted 80m for what referee Gerard Sutton judged to be his 17th Origin try.
However, the video referees thought otherwise, ruling Matt Scott touched the ball after NSW five-eighth Mitchell Pearce appeared to lose the ball in a Michael Morgan tackle.
The Blues had suffered their own disappointment a few minutes earlier when a try was disallowed after a pass was ruled forward.
NSW, which led 14-10 at half-time, found itself 16-14 down five minutes into the restart when stand-in halfback Daly Cherry-Evans found replacement forward Matt Gillett who cut back inside for this first Origin try.
Queensland opted to take a penalty midway through the second half rather than push for a try, extending the lead to 18-14.
The four points was never going to be enough with 20 minutes still to play against a desperate Blues outfit which needed to win to keep the series alive.
NSW made Queensland pay for not backing their attack, with prop Aaron Woods scoring a soft try two minutes later, before halfback Trent Hodkinson put fullback Josh Dugan over to seal the win in the 70th minute.
Blues skipper Paul Gallen showed tremendous courage to finish the game after being forced off the field and into the dressing sheds in the 18th minute for an injection for a suspected rib injury
"I'm really proud of the boys. We stuck to our game plan and hung in," Gallen said after the win.
"Nate (Myles) got me early. It didn't hurt then, but five or 10 minutes later I felt something pop."
Queensland, already installed clear favourite to win game three, has a very good recent record in series deciders, and also playing in front of sellout Suncorp Stadium crowds.
The Maroons won deciders in 2011, 2012 and 2013 during their record eight-series winning streak.
Queensland will be hoping Cooper Cronk is back for Origin III with Cherry-Evans again having an average game, although he was forced to do plenty of defence.
The Blues were well served by Dugan, Woods, Ryan Hoffman, Gallen and props James Tamou and Woods, while Michael Jennings had his best Origin game for some time.
For Queensland, no one tried harder than Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith, while Inglis was back to his brilliant best.
NSW 26 (M Jennings, J Morris, A Woods, J Dugan tries, T Hodkinson 5 goals)
QLD 18 (M Scott, G Inglis, M Gillett tries, J Thurston 3 goals). Crowd: 91,513 at MCG