Maroons leave Blues fans with a sickly familiar Origin feeling

State of Origin returned to Sydney for the first time in over 18 months and 80,512 fans filled the Olympic Stadium for the occasion.

The Blues players and staff took the long, slow walk through the tunnel from the Centre of Excellence, photos of former New South Wales greats adorning the walls, with 'Enter the Sandman' blaring, in a tradition recently established by coach Brad Fittler.

They ran out into the middle of the stadium spurred on by a guttural roar to face the Queensland players who had moments earlier been treated to boos and jeers. It was time again for the pinnacle of rugby league, the annual battle for supremacy between the states.

The first tackle of the game saw Maroons veteran prop Josh Papalii charge into the surging blue wave, and as often happens in such explosive moments, a player came reeling out of the collision. It was key Blues forward Isaah Yeo, who landed on his back and clearly stumbled as he regained his feet.

It seemed Yeo's night was over, as the HIA protocols would surely take him from the game. But, a trainer's assessment and a revision of the replays by the doctor surprisingly cleared him to continue. He was back in amongst the third tackle of the game, reminding all that self-preservation has never been part of Origin.

The early exchanges saw play flow from end to end, Nathan Cleary almost put Panthers' teammate Liam Martin through the line, but threw the pass too firmly.

Queensland were matching the Blues for intensity, as they always do, and Daly Cherry-Evans soon cut them up down the middle. Scrambling defence shut down the movement, before a Maroons' kick dribbled over the dead ball line.

Referee Ashley Klein was keeping a low profile, with very few penalties or six again calls. He did earn the ire of the crowd when he penalised the Blues defence for herding winger Selwyn Cobbo over the sideline 10 minutes into the game.

The big hits kept coming and handling mistakes started creeping into the game. The Blues were handed an attacking opportunity after 12 minutes when Valentine Holmes lost the ball in heavy contact. Xavier Coates knocked on to end a promising backline movement and the Blues reloaded their attack from a scrum 10 metres out. The ball soon spun to the left where Jack Wighton stormed through Dane Gagai for the first try.

Eighteen minutes into the game, with the Blues leading 4-0, the coverage crossed to the Queensland coach's box for a casual chat with Billy Slater. With both coaches also on the broadcaster's payroll, it was a natural and uniquely intimate insight into the thoughts of an Origin legend under all sorts of pressure in his first coaching role.

After 22 minutes, Ben Hunt left the field to be replaced by Harry Grant. There must have been flashbacks to Nathan Brown's famous "Walker's on!" call for the Blues, as Grant presented a similarly alarming threat. The players would have been prepared to step up their awareness to greet his delayed arrival, but he still very nearly equalled the scores with a typical dart from dummy-half 15 minutes out from the break.

We then crossed to the Blues coach's box where the always-casual Fittler revealed he was concerned about the fatigue creeping in thanks to the speed of the game and the introduction of the dangerous Grant. He suggested that he and his assistants were in the process of reorganising their bench rotation plans to compensate.

Coates limped from the field with a badly sprained ankle, and another young Queenslander, Jeremiah Nanai, was given his debut. He joined fellow debutant Pat Carrigan, who was tearing into his work, making powerful runs through the middle of the ruck.

It was another Queensland debutant, Cobbo, who set up the Maroons' first try. He made a break down the right sideline on halfway and put in a centering kick that sat up perfectly for Holmes, who converted his own try to give the visitors a 6-4 lead.

In the shadows of the break Blues prop Junior Paulo sweet-stepped his way over from eight metres out - the celebrations were deafening, if premature. Replays soon showed that a decoy runner had stopped in the defensive line creating the gaping hole required by Paulo. There was time enough remaining for Cameron Munster to miss a field goal attempt and for the Blues to storm back down field only to have a kick cleaned up by a flying Holmes.

The players trudged off, with Cherry-Evans, interviewed as he left the field, confirming that he was very happy with the Queenslanders' efforts.

The second half was still young when a barnstorming run by Brian To'o, coming out from his own territory, resulted in another nasty ankle injury, this time to Nanai, who also limped from the field. With over half an hour remaining in the game, the Maroons were down to two players on their bench and forwards filling in their backline.

Still it was Munster who set the game alight with a stuttering run on halfway, before cutting through a Martin tackle to race away.

A scrambling Blues defence, led by James Tedesco, stopped the run and the Blues knocked the ball down in an ensuing play.

A scrum base move in the middle of the field saw Queensland captain Cherry-Evans wrong-foot an overly committed Tariq Sims to score under the posts. The crowd rumbled as Paulo protested that he had been held in the scrum, as the scent of an upset descended across the stadium.

Fittler rolled the dice in the shape of Panthers centre Stephen Crichton, replacing Kotoni Staggs who nursed a shoulder injury into the sheds. Crichton's first involvement was to lift Munster above the horizontal in a back-slamming tackle. He was placed on report and a penalty awarded to the Maroons as the coverage crossed back to Fittler, whose patience was sorely tested by the insightful Matthew Thompson who asked whether he was worried about the score.

"Well we're not winning mate, so we need to generate some speed and get the ball down the other end," Fittler almost snapped.

It was a timely reminder that the voice of Origin, Ray Warren, had retired, and that all good things must come to an end. Fittler's words were still hanging in the air as Kalyn Ponga threw a bullet pass to Holmes who crossed for the Maroons' third try. The conversion was missed from out wide, but the Maroons led 16-4 and were looking dominant.

In the stuff of Queensland folklore, Nanai ran back onto the field with a heavily strapped ankle. They needed every able man to hammer a few more nails into the Blues' coffin.

The heavily praised Panthers scrum-base combination was misfiring. Nathan Cleary and Luai struggled to spark an attack that was increasingly crying out for some Tom Trbojevic or Latrell Mitchell magic. Tedesco was at his busy best, but he was a one-man show.

Wighton was doing everything in his power, but nothing was flowing and the Maroons defence was relentless. Any expected fatigue was being driven from their bodies by that legendary Maroons spirit.

Finally, a Damien Cook dart sent Tedesco through the line. He couldn't find Cleary in support, so put through a kick which Holmes brilliantly snuffed out with a desperate dive.

The Blues found their way back into the Maroons 20-metre zone where Luai drew Cherry-Evans to put Cameron Murray past Gagai for their second try of the night. The stadium shook as Cleary converted to take the score to 16-10. The game was live as Wighton made a long break down the left-hand sideline. Munster stole the ball from Crichton moments later to keep the Blues at bay. He then cleaned up another kick to save the day once more. He was clearly deserving of the man-of-the-match award he picked up on the night.

Time was fading, as the Blues mounted one final attacking raid. With the desperate Maroons hanging on in every tackle, the ball ended up in the arms of Yeo, the player who was lucky to last beyond the opening minutes. He stepped, he weaved, he headed for the posts and was dragged down just half a metre short. The siren sounded as he battled to his feet to play the ball. The game was over and it was another classic underdog victory to the Maroons - just their tenth at the venue.

Another page had been printed in the story of Queensland's State of Origin dominance. Against the odds, against enormous fatigue, with debutants staking their claims to leading roles, the Maroons had done it yet again.

The crowd filed out with a familiar feeling in the pits of their stomachs. New South Wales would now have to defy the odds to fight back from 1-0 down in the series.

Bring on Game II in Perth.