State of Origin Game 3: Sad truth about Andrew Johns’ TV explosion in NSW

Andrew Johns was a broken man on Wednesday night, but his post-match speech revealed a much bigger issue that continues to haunt NSW.

Queensland, you’ve done it again.

During the Maroons’ reign of dominance, which saw them win 11 of 12 series between 2006 and 2017, they boasted some of the greatest players the game has ever seen in Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk .

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Even with all that talent, so often the reason for their success was identified as Queensland “caring” more about Origin. Possess the original “spirit”. Earning those little moments that make such a big difference.

It was a myth, of course, that Queensland had more passion for the interstate contest than NSW. But so often it was the Maroons with that final, ultimate game to steal the win – so the myth lived on.

Not at the Blues, however. Rightly, they have always dismissed the claim that they didn’t ‘get’ Origin the way Queensland did – even as they cut and changed players and coaches, taking criticism for not not “pick and stick” like their rivals.

With a thrilling 22-12 victory on Wednesday night, those north of the Tweed added another chapter to the Origin lore, winning a game they weren’t entitled to.

Losing top player Cameron Munster and winger Murray Taulagi ahead of the game against Covid, Maroons manager Billy Slater brought in two debutants. Then he lost two players to concussion in the first three minutes.

His troops should never have stood a chance, but rookie Tom Dearden was outstanding, Kalyn Ponga threatened with every touch, Daly Cherry-Evans’ kicking game was masterful and Ben Hunt got up to secure the shield of origin.

Queensland have now won two of the last three series – often through heart, camaraderie and grit, rather than talent alone. That’s why New South Wales legend Andrew Johns was so moody as he led post-match coverage of Nine alongside Maroons legends Smith and Paul Vautin.

Told it must have been hard for him to watch, Johns replied, “Yeah. It means so much.

A question from Paul Vautin about where things went wrong for NSW pushed Johns over the edge.

“Why? Well, you won the big moments,” he said.

“Now we have to listen to all the *** bulls from you (Queenslanders) over the next 12 months. It drives you crazy.

This “*** bulls” Johns was referring to is not just the usual jubilation that accompanies every Origin Series win, but Queenslanders’ belief that they “get” Origin when NSW doesn’t.

Johns’ brooding display of what some called sour grapes wasn’t quite as chilling as the extraordinary spray he delivered to NSW for failing to target an injured Thurston in 2017, but that’s what made him made me so sad.

Once again Queensland had pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Finding life when it should have been dead.

Of course, there have been instances where NSW has ‘done a Queensland’, such as in 2019 when James Tedesco won the series with a last minute try. But nine times out of 10 when the odds should be impossible, it’s the Maroons who have earned a reputation for digging deep and doing the unthinkable.

After wrapping up the streak with two comprehensive wins last year, NSW manager Brad Fittler suggested his side could be on the cusp of their own dynasty, much like the one overseen by Smith, Thurston and Co. .at the beginning of this century.

But anyone who sincerely believed this was living a lie. If the astonishing back-to-the-wall victory orchestrated by Wayne Bennett in 2020 hasn’t already proven that Queensland’s fighting spirit cannot be held at bay long enough to create what constitutes a ‘dynasty’ these days, then Wednesday night’s victory certainly did.

The expression on Johns face revealed he knew how big an opportunity NSW had missed.

Stupid mistakes at the wrong time – whether drop kicks, silly no-look dumps or messy ball games – ultimately killed the Blues. While footy fans loved the “greatest game of all time” on an Origin level, Fittler wasn’t buying it.

He lamented his team’s mistakes and poor decision-making, saying in his post-match press conference that if the Blues were so far from their best there was no way the decider could to be ranked as the biggest Origin contest we’ve ever seen.

When fatigue set in and the pressure rose to 11, it didn’t matter how many Penrith suits visitors had on the park.

They defended with great courage but couldn’t match Queensland where it mattered most – in those small moments and small percentages that ultimately separate Origin winners from Origin losers.

And Andrew Johns knows it.

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Raymond I. Langston