‘Line in the sand’ ended Blues era before it began

When New South Wales won the 2018 State of Origin series, it flagged the dawn of a new era of dominance.

Finally it was the southern state’s time to make hay while the sun was shining.

Queensland had won an astonishing 11 of the previous 12 series, including eight in a row from 2006. It was a painful period for anyone hailing from south of the Tweed. You dare not mutter the words “eight in a row” in any pub where blue adorns the walls.

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But those days were gone. A host of the best Maroons talent stepped down from Origin duties after celebrating the 2017 success.

Champion five-eighth Johnathan Thurston played one game in the 2017 series before a shoulder injury ruled him out of the remainder.

Cameron Smith retired from Origin before the 2018 series, despite continuing in the NRL for a further two years. Halfback Cooper Cronk and winger Darius Boyd – key members of the almighty Queensland side – didn’t wear the jumper again after 2017, either.

Legendary fullback Billy Slater returned the following year at the request of coach Kevin Walters to represent the Maroons. Controversially, he won the Wally Lewis Medal despite playing for the losing side. Greg Inglis finished his Origin career after 2018, too.

The Blues won again in 2019 to confirm their arrival as the new Origin powerhouse. Then, before the word ‘dynasty’ could even be uttered, the power balance swung again.

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Brad Fittler’s men somehow lost the series that many said was unlosable – Wayne Bennett was jettisoned into the Maroons coaching chair at late notice, and had to cobble together a rag-tag bunch of misfits into a rugby league team.

Somehow – it’s yet to be properly explained – Queensland triumphed in 2020.

The Blues bounced back to win in 2021 but now they’ve lost the shield once again, being trumped 2-1 by the old enemy.

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“It’s another line in the sand moment,” legendary Blues coach Phil Guold said on Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast as he reviewed the Origin decider.

“All those great players, all the senior players who went on that enormous run with Queensland, all retired pretty much within two years of each other.

“And since that time they’ve won two of four series, with a new band of players coming through.

“At times they’ve looked ordinary, but they keep being able to win the ones that count. They won that series in 2020 with Wayne Bennett as coach that no one expected them to win. They patched up a team and put it together. “

Only five players who featured in the 2017 success are still representing Queensland in 2022.

The famous names like Smith, Slater, Thurston, Cronk, Boyd, and many others have disappeared from the jerseys.

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But many of them now appear on the coaching staff. Slater has taken the reins of the Maroons this year and he’s brought Smith and Thurston with him as assistants.

Other Origin greats like Allan Langer and Nate Myles are never far away from the playing group.

“You look at all the experience to come out of that side. But in a way that experience was put back in with the coaching team they had,” Gould said.

“Those great players – Slater, Smith, Thurston – and everyone else who’s been around the camp for so long, Alfie Langer and so on.

“That’s what I mean about Queensland, it’s one long, continuous campaign.”

The bad news for Blues fans is those same names will be running the show at Maroons HQ again next year.

Who knows when the pain will end.

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