Expectation has not been a good thing to have over the past 13 years, not when you're a Blues fan. Still a sell-out crowd gathered carrying plenty of hope. Hope that they were about to witness just the second New South Wales State of Origin series victory in those 13 long years.
With the Sunday night darkness embracing ANZ Stadium, the sky blue plastic seats gradually filled, mostly with Blues fans. Many of these same fans were in the stadium last year following a resounding Game 1 victory, expecting to see an end to Queensland's painful dominance. They left disappointed.
The tide was turning as Queensland's aging superstars reached the end of their representative careers. Now, apart from Billy Slater and Greg Inglis, they were gone, this was the Blues year, surely. The lights dimmed, fireworks coloured the 82,223 faces and the tension built.
In the sheds players gathered to wish each other the best before marching into another Origin battle. New South Wales coach Brad "Freddy" Fittler joked, smiled and hid any pre-game nerves he might have felt, as only Freddy can. The Blues under his reign were one from one, there was no 12 years of misery as far as he was concerned and the majority of his players were free from those bitter memories as well.
Queensland ran onto the field to a chorus of boos, New South Wales to a roar of approval. The anthem was sung as players stood with arms around each other. The match officials somehow felt it necessary to do the same. And then it was on again, the battle to determine the best rugby league state for another year.
The opening exchanges proved what a difference Queensland legend Billy Slater makes to this team. Whenever the ball was in his hands the Blues were scrambling, he works at a pace and with a precision which challenges the best defences. He was in the backline movement that put Valentine Holmes over for the first try of the match, down the left-hand side of the field, after 14 minutes.
In contrast to last year's Game 2, the Blues weren't dominating early and the crowd began to lose its volume. Their attack looked disjointed, last tackle options were poor and ill-discipline costly, at least in terms of field position. Queensland were on top.
It wasn't long before Slater was sweeping around the right side of the field to send Dane Gagai over for the second try of the match. The new Blues were struggling to contain the Maroons, who had discovered the Slater-shaped key to unlocking their suspect edge defence. Queensland led 10-0 after 21 minutes.
The Blues forwards were still controlling the middle of the field and started to assert their dominance with the ball in hand. It was several solid forward charges into Queensland's 20 metre zone which led to Josh Addo-Carr crossing for the Blues' first try.
Then, in the moment that will fuel most Monday morning Origin discussions, Ben Hunt knocked Boyd Cordner over as he chased a James Maloney grubber kick. How the bunker determined that Cordner was definitely going to regather and score without the interference will be debated for days in offices and worksites up and down the East coast. Cordner was ten metres out when hit, the ball was gathered by Queensland's Will Chambers a metre from the dead ball line.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters certainly wasn't impressed, starting the post-match press conference by saying Queensland had really scored three tries to two, before answering specific questions about the penalty try.
"I've been watching rugby league for a long time, I'm not sure exactly what the rule is about a penalty try, isn't it that he is definitely going to score, well that is the decision they came up with and we have to respect that, doesn't mean it was the right decision," Walters said.
"Nah, I'm not convinced [that he would have scored], but I don't want that to be what this is all about, New South Wales won and we have to take our hat off to them, but it was a tough call."
New South took a 12-10 lead into the halftime break. A shroud of deja vu descended over the stadium, murmurs spreading about the uneasy familiarity. The Blues, with a 1-0 series lead and ahead at the break in Game 2 -- it was only twelve months ago that everything unravelled from that very point.
It was one of those players who wasn't there last year, who carried no mental scars, who crashed over for his second try of the series. Latrell Mitchell, representing the future for the Blues, and putting them ahead 18-10. Five minutes later he buried Cameron Munster deep into the ANZ turf on the Blues 20 metre line and stood up grinning, as the crowd roared. No deja vu for Mitchell.
With the Blues up 18-10 and 18 minutes to go, Mitchell's unhindered exuberance led to a costly 20 metre restart mistake. Queensland crossed in the corner through Will Chambers, cutting the Blues lead to 18-14. It was happening, Queensland applying the pressure, capitalising on mistakes.
With fifteen minutes to go, the game was set for another Queensland special. Mitchell made another bust and flick passed the ball over the sideline. New South Wales were leading with their chins, asking for the knock-out blow.
Twelve minutes to go and Kalyn Ponga sliced through the defence only to be dragged down a metre short of the try-line by James Tedesco and Addo-Carr. In the following play James Roberts was sin binned for obstructing a Queensland kick chaser. The fear in the stands was palpable, the Maroons were setting themselves to do it again.
Did the thought cross Fittler's mind that he was about to witness another Queensland miracle finish? He was, after all, the player around Mark Coyne's ankles as he scored the most famous miracle try back in 1994. He knew very well what Queensland were capable of doing.
"Nah, not all all, it didn't cross my mind... to be fair, if you had to spend ten minutes with only 12 players, at the death, with the crowd behind you, is most probably the best time to do it," was Fittler's take.
Next Chambers put Holmes in the clear down the left wing, was this Queensland's moment? Across in a classic cover tackle was Nathan Cleary, a new Blue, one who hadn't suffered this storyline before and one who refused to suffer it for a first time.
Another break down the left and a kick by Holmes straight into the stomach of Tedesco. Queensland's finishing was lacking polish, the polish Smith, Thurston and Cronk used to apply.
The clock wound down, not till the final siren did Blues fans allow themselves to celebrate. When that final whistle blew, they knew there would be no heartbreak this year. New South Wales were 2018 State of Origin champions. A new coach, a new team, and fans can finally expect a bright future for the Blues.