Blues backs tear Maroons apart in Townsville

Calls for greater involvement from Nathan Cleary were answered at the earliest mark as he stood under a towering kick off to start the 2021 State of Origin series at Townsville's Queensland Country Bank Stadium. The full house, bathed in maroon, roared as the Queensland defence poured through to wrap him up.

The unusual kick deprived the audience, both live and at home, of the traditional prop's charge of courage and it saw the Blues begin their campaign on the front foot, 20 metres out. It was a start that would prove indicative of the entire contest.

The Blues' backline weapons proved too much for the Maroons defence to handle on the night, as they ran away to dominate with a 50-6 victory in the northern-most Origin game since the ill-fated 1987 trip to California.

The early exchanges were fast, seemingly even faster than the usual increased State of Origin speed. The ball was moved wide and turned inside, there were darts from dummy-half, most notably and dangerously by Maroons star Harry Grant, who made the first real break of the game.

It was frantic, even as the referee kept his "six again" calls up his sleeve early, despite the local crowd's cries for the same standards they have become accustomed to in the NRL.

Debutant Jarome Luai set the scene early with a bullet-like pass to Latrell Mitchell who stepped the defence only to find Sims on the inside, who couldn't handle the ball. Shortly after the Maroons swept the ball to their left only for the Blues defence to scramble well enough to snuff out the raid. It was Origin at its best.

The Blues opened the scoring through a Cleary penalty goal after 10 minutes. Just two minutes later we saw a clash of heads between young Penrith winger Brian To'o and Maroons prop Christian Welch. Welch left the field for a HIA after wobbling on his feet and did not return. There was no need for the sin bin or reports or a penalty for that matter, it was one of those unfortunate clashes we have in this high-impact game. To'o remained on the field and would go on to score two tries in an incredible debut effort.

The much-feared ruinous sin bin usage never eventuated, with the officials doing an excellent job of controlling the game, without needing to deprive either side of a player.

We heard our first "six again" call after 13 minutes with the Maroons attacking the Blues line, but five-eighth Cameron Munster didn't hear the call and put up a kick which ended up in the hands of the Blues.

Mitchell made a sideline defying run down the left-hand side and was brought to ground by Xavier Coates. The ball eventually went right to Tedesco who put a kick through for Josh Addo-Carr, who was taken out by Kyle Feldt. It was another penalty to the Blues and in the next set of six they spread it back to the right for Trbojevic to do what he does best, slicing through a half gap to score the first try of the match.

The Maroons fought their way back into Blues territory before dropping the ball on the last tackle. They were struggling to crack the Blues defence and were frustrated through their mistakes.

Damien Cook then carved a hole up the middle, before throwing a long pass which was touched by a Queenslander before bouncing off Tedesco's head before Tedesco regathered the ball. The ball was worked to the left and Mitchell drew some uncertainly from winger Coates, to put To'o over untouched in the corner for his first try. Mitchell was hit late by Moe Fotuaika after passing the ball and the Queensland prop was placed on report.

The Blues were starting to make metres up the middle of the ruck, with bullocking runs from their forwards and timely darts from dummy half by Cook and Tedesco.

Trbojevic was following coach Brad Fittler's orders to the letter, bobbing up everywhere there was a half chance, supporting up the middle and dominating the game from start to finish. Captain Tedesco played near to his best football at fullback, but he was completely overshadowed by the Sea Eagles custodian.

The next Blues try came on the last tackle, again to their left with Tariq Sims throwing a miraculous 15 metre pass to find To'o unmarked again.

Queensland were given back-to-back six again calls ten minutes out from the break and it allowed them to progress all the way down the field where they made another handling error. The Maroons, in front of their adoring fans, were unable to sustain any attacking pressure and they were being badly exposed in defence.

On their next possession they were awarded a penalty for a strip and shortly after, Kurt Capewell weaved his way past a bad defensive effort from Tom Trbojevic - quite possibly the only blight on his entire performance. The crowd roared, as the Maroons finally troubled the scoreboard to take the score to 20-6 following the conversion.

Blood was pouring from the cheek of Cleary, who had earlier copped a stray elbow from Trbojevic, and he was sent from the field to have it cleaned up. In his absence the kick-off went out on the full, putting the Maroons back on the attack again with four minutes remaining in the half. A six again call and a goal line drop out saw them mounting serious pressure on the Blues defence, but a big hit from Mitchell on Valentine Holmes saw the former NFL hopeful fumble the ball 10 yards from the opposition end zone.

Mitchell was back to his best in the centres as well. His hard running and deceptive speed caused the Maroons defence trouble all night. He worked really well with Luai and with Trbojevic when he popped up on his side of the field. With the halftime siren sounding the teams met in a push and shove near the appreciative crowd, before trotting off.

The start to the second half was more measured with errors creeping in for both teams. Joe Ofahengaue ran through to take Tedesco out from under a high ball and the pressure was again released from the Blues defence. Queensland were doing absolutely nothing to help their cause.

The Blues worked their way down field and the ball found Trbojevic on the wrong side of the field, inside Mitchell. He ran to the line before grubbering through for Mitchell to score.

In the lead up to that try we saw the first implementation of the high contact crackdown with Kyle Feldt placed on report for a high shot on Cameron Murray. It was a fairly blatant breach, but thankfully Feldt was only placed on report, and the game was allowed to continue with the full contingent of players.

Munster was next to find himself on report as he freed himself from a Liam Martin tackle by giving the Penrith debutant a friendly kick to the midriff. Again the play was allowed to continue to the benefit of the spectacle.

The Blues were dominating, with their dangerous halves and backs tearing into the tiring Maroons defence. Luai sliced through on halfway, sent the ball inside to Mitchell who found Trbojevic backing up yet again. This try was followed by an opportunistic effort from Mitchell as he gathered up a dropped bomb to scurry over. The score line was starting to embarrass the home team and the visitors seemed determined to pile on the pain.

Trbojevic scored another try after the Blues swept downfield, with Tedesco throwing him a deft flick pass that summed up the night for both teams. The Blues raised the bat for the half century as the crowd continued to thin. Mitchell, Trbojevic, Tedesco and Luai were next to unstoppable and threaten to lead New South Wales to a series victory on Sunday June 27 at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.

When asked after the game what he said to Trbojevic in the lead-up, Fittler replied; "I say as little as possible, we can all see what he can do at the moment ... to watch players play like that brought me a lot of joy."

If you've watched enough Origin series though, you well know not to write the Maroons off yet, even after a thumping of this magnitude.

"I think every year I've been in charge, we win a game convincingly and last year we lost the other two... we haven't won a game at Suncorp for three years. I'm sure Queensland will regroup like they always do," Fittler warned.