A CONTROVERSIAL late try to NSW-born Queensland centre Greg Inglis secured an 18-10 victory for the Maroons over the Blues in another pulsating State of Origin game at Etihad Stadium, in Melbourne, last night.
Blues captain Paul Gallen’s temper boiled over when video referee Sean Hampstead, after several replays, awarded Inglis a try in the 73rd minute after Inglis initially lost the ball on NSW hooker Robbie Farah’s foot.
Queensland fullback Billy Slater had batted back halfback Cooper Cronk’s cross-field kick to Inglis, who grounded the ball after it bounced loose into the in-goal area.
The try and Johnathan Thurston’s conversion gave the Maroons an eight-point lead after the game had hung in the balance at 12-10.
Explaining the decision to Gallen, referee Matt Cecchin said: ‘‘He’s ruled that it’s come off the arm or the leg [of Farah].’’
Gallen roared back that the Blues had not enjoyed ‘‘the rub of the green’’ all night.
‘‘Well what was it? His arm or his leg?’’ Gallen pleaded.
‘‘How the hell was that a try? He f---ing well dropped the ball ... This is out of control. This is ridiculous.’’
Slater’s tackle on a run-away Michael Jennings two minutes before Inglis scored saved a NSW try that could have given the Blues a win and a 1-0 series lead heading into game two at ANZ Stadium, in Sydney, on June 13.
Instead, the Maroons are in the box seat to extend their record-breaking sequence to a seventh straight series win.
If they cannot wrap it up in Sydney, they have a second chance on home soil at an already sold-out Suncorp Stadium on July 4.
It was the third Origin game played at Etihad, and the near-capacity crowd of 56,021 set a record for the largest attendance at a rugby league game at the venue, surpassing the 54,833 in 2006.
Queensland led 12-4 at half-time after a first half in which the spotlight shone brightly on Knights teammates and opposing wingers Aku Uate and Darius Boyd on the eastern touch line.
Uate scored with his first touch, recovering a Farah bomb that Boyd bobbled into Uate’s back, to give NSW a 4-0 lead in the sixth minute, though it took several replays to convince video referee Sean Hampstead to award it.
Boyd hit back with tries for the Maroons in the 26th and 39th minutes, taking advantage of Uate’s decision to leave his wing and try to shut down the man who threw the final pass.
Billy Slater’s no-look pass created Boyd’s first try, then Johnathan Thurston delivered the money ball just before half-time.
Uate ran in to try to wrap up Inglis in the 14th minute but the giant Maroons centre stepped into space and it took Josh Morris’s desperate tackle to bundle Inglis into touch.
The Blues had the better of the first 20 minutes and should have extended their lead when Farah darted towards the posts in the 17th minute but he was held up by three Queensland defenders.
The momentum swung Queensland’s way in the 21st minute when some push and shove between Blues lock Greg Bird and Maroons prop Matt Scott fired up into a brawl.
Cecchin sent Jennings to the sin bin for 10 minutes because the troubled Penrith star ran in and threw a punch.
‘‘You’ve come running into this and it had nothing to do with you. Off you go,’’ the referee said.
Making the most of their extra man, the Maroons started to attack the NSW edges and it took a well-timed shove by Blues left winger Jarryd Hayne to deny Brent Tate a try in the corner in the 24th minute.
But a penalty gave Queensland another attacking set and they converted it into six points with Boyd’s first try, which Thurston converted from touch.
Uate spilled a bomb in the 31st minute but Morris was back to save his winger’s bacon again.
NSW five-eighth Todd Carney struggled through a rough patch.
Carney failed to find touch in the 32nd minute and lost the ball in a tackle three minutes later, then Bird compounded those errors when he was penalised for a lifting tackle on Cronk in the 38th minute.
Using that as a launch pad deep into NSW territory, Thurston wove his magic shuffling to his left and sending Boyd away to score in the corner.
Just two minutes into the second half, Jennings atoned for his sin-binning, when he picked up the scraps after Slater spilled the bomb of NSW halfback Mitchell Pearce and raced away to score.
Carney converted from close range to cut Queensland’s lead to 12-10.
As they did in the first half, the Blues enjoyed a territorial advantage in the opening minutes of the second stanza.
They had a chance to post further points when awarded a penalty in the 52nd minute 40 metres out from the Queenslanders’ line, however, instead of attacking, they took a shot at goal and Carney pushed his attempt wide.