CHAMPIONS should never be underestimated as Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston put a supposedly understrength Maroons side on the path to a fifth straight Origin series win with a 28-24 opening game victory over NSW on Wednesday night.
Written off by critics who claimed they could not cope with the loss of a host of superstars and a rejuvenated and hardened Blues outfit, the Maroons proved they still had more than enough to see off their rivals with Thurston stealing the show with a stunning display.
The Queensland No.7 was simply magnificent as he set up four of his side's five tries at a slippery ANZ Stadium - NSW with no answer to the classy playmaker who fittingly sealed the result with a one-on-one strip on Blues skipper Kurt Gidley for Sam Thaiday to make 28-14 with 13 minutes on the clock.
"We were slow out of the blocks but got some good tries in the end," Thurston said.
"It's the Queensland way - it's our never give up attitude, this team's got a special bond.
"They keep writing us off with no (Cameron) Smith, (Steve) Price, (Ben) Hannant - we love it."
The Blues added some respectability with debutant Jamal Idris and Ben Creagh crossing late the final margin doing little to indicate the gap between the two sides as NSW dropped a home opener for the first time since 1998 before 68,753 fans.
The anticipated fiery start never eventuated as NSW attacked with bombs rather than their fists.
It reaped rewards as Maroons fullback Billy Slater dropped the first aerial raid, but it was Anthony Watmough who proved to be the unlikliest of providers with the boots when a Darius Boyd spill saw Jarryd Hayne pounce for a 6-0 lead to the home side.
Queensland appeared rattled with Darren Lockyer's restart sailing over the dead ball line, his next kick charged down with only the cruellest of bounces denying Timana Tahu a saloon passage to the tryline.
The Maroons weathered the storm as they prayed for a break to go their way, and it finally did when Matt Cooper spilled the ball deep inside his own half.
It was all the invitation Thurston needed as he fashioned a try out of nothing when he ignored the attention of two defenders to offload for Boyd to level the scores thanks to Thurston's 27th consecutive conversion of 2010.
A dubious offside penalty allowed the Blues to kick out by two via Lyon's boot, but that man Thurston continued to haunt the hosts when a deft infield kick was swooped upon by Billy Slater who showed magic hands to score his eighth try in his 12th Origin appearance.
A brilliant Hayne tackle denied Greg Inglis a try just before halftime, but if the Blues were hoping for that to be the match-turning play they were sorely mistaken with Darren Lockyer storming onto a super David Shillington offload to make it 16-8 eight minutes into the second half.
Slater's skills with ball in hand were matched by his defiance in defence when he pulled off a try-saver on opposite Gidley, the Blues lucky to be awarded a four-pointer two tackles later when Trent Waterhouse appeared to knock on in the lead up to Anthony's Watmough try.
With a four-point margin the Blues were back in it, but Thurston pounced again just six minutes later to send what had been a quiet Greg Inglis into a gap - Inglis then backing up Boyd to score his ninth Queensland try before Thurston put the result beyond doubt.
78 minutes: Ben Creage managed to get just enough control of a loose ball to cross the line for the Blues. A conversion by Jamie Lyon brought the score to 28-24.
73 minutes: Origin debutant Jamal Indris has crossed the line to bring New South Wales back to a 10 point margin. Jamie Lyon missed the conversion to leave the score at 28-18.
67 minutes: The video referee has given the Maroons the benefit of the doubt to give Sam Thaiday his first try for the night. Johnathan Thurston stripped Kert Gidley of the ball moments before Greg Inglis tackled him from behind. Thurston then converted the try to give Queensland a commanding lead of 28-14.
60 minutes: Greg Inglis has scored his first goal for the night after a play down the left-hand side. Johnathan Thurston recovered his form to convert the try and give Queensland an eight point lead, 22-14, with just 16 minutes of play remaining.
55 minutes: Anthony Watmough has snatched a loose ball to revive New South Wales' hopes. A conversion by Jamie Lyon means the Blues now trail by just two points, 16-14
50 minutes: Jarryd Hanes literally threw away a chance to cross the line as he passed the ball straight over the head of Jamal Indris and over the side line.
48 minutes: Darryn Lockyer has crossed the line to give Queensland an even bigger edge. Johnathan Thurston missed the conversion but Queensland still has a commanding lead of 16-8.
40 minutes: Matt Cooper is out with a bruised hip.
32 minutes: Billy Slater has put the Maroons in front for the first time tonight after scoring a try off a Johnathan Thurston grubber kick. The try is Slater's eighth Origin try. Thurston converted to bring the score to 12-8. Betting odds have now swung in Queensland's favour. New South Wales' chances are now valued at $2.20 while Queensland has dropped to $1.60.
29 minutes: Jamie Lyon has edged New South Wales into the lead with a penalty goal after a Queensland knock-on. Commentators say they were lucky to get the penalty. NSW now lead 8-6.
14 minutes: Darius Boyd scores a try off an overhead pass from Johnathan Thurston following a penalty against NSW. Thurston makes the conversion to equal the scoreboard.
8 minutes: New South Wales have scored the first try of the game in slippery conditions. A high kick, dropped by Darius Boyd, bounced off Johnathan Thurston to put Jarryd Hane and the ball in the right place at the right time. A successful conversion puts New South Wales six points in front.
Kick off: As the rain continues to fall in Sydney, New South Wales are favourites to take out the first match in the 30th year of State of Origin. TAB rated New South Wales' chances of victory at $1.75 and Queensland's at $2.05.
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