Queensland’s specialised sessions on late-game situations paid off on Wednesday night, with halfback Cooper Cronk kicking a clutch field goal to clinch the opening State of Origin match in Sydney.
Cronk’s match-winner came one set after NSW twice ignored opportunities to pot a field goal, before missing a third chance on a Josh Dugan’s wayward shot in the final minutes.
Teammate Johnathan Thurston admitted the side had spent part of their preparation on how to approach tight games at the death.
“We do a fair bit of preparation on it,” Thurston told AAP.
“But Coops has slotted those for us many times before so when we get in that position, he’s one of the best at it.
“When the play goes down, I just try and hold a bit of shape on the left, but he always gets in a position for them.”
Thurston said he was surprised NSW turned down both opportunities to go for the go-ahead field goal.
“I think they had two opportunities,” he said.
“After my (missed) conversion, I think they got down the other end and they went pass, pass.
“I thought Hodkinson was going to have a crack, (but) he tipped it onto Jenko, he kicked it dead.
“We went down the other end and then slotted that.
“And then I think they had another opportunity, they hit (Dugan) instead of Hodkinson, he was in position to have a slot and Duges has missed.
“That’s the difference between the two teams.”
It wasn’t the first time Cronk had broken the hearts of the southern state. In 2012, he coolly kicked another match-winning effort from 40 metres out in the deciding game in Brisbane.
Fullback Billy Slater said experience – the Maroons had played 160 more Origin games in total than their opposition – was vital in coming up with late-game heroics.
“We’ve got experienced men in this side – Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk,” he said.
“They know what it takes to close out a game when it’s close.
“That’s where we’re really fortunate.”
While Cameron Smith was officially rewarded man of the match, Slater believed second-gamer Will Chambers was best on ground.
“To be honest, I think he was our best tonight,” Smith said.
“I don’t think he’s played on the wing before.
“He plays a different role for Queensland than what he does for the Storm.
“For his preparation, to get it to where it is and to go out there and play what I think is the man-of-the-match performance, that’s an outstanding effort for a guy that’s playing his second game.”