Wayne Bennett has compared Cameron Munster to Allan Langer after the Queensland No.6 dominated another State of Origin decider to stir memories of the former Maroons playmaker’s famous return 19 years ago.
The Maroons defended with a man down in the final three minutes to win a brutal decider 20-14 at a near-capacity Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday.
Debutant Harry Grant – one of 14 uncapped players used by Bennett across the series – changed the game after being brought on early in the first half and probing the ruck to score the decisive try.
But Munster set the tone, creating a crucial try on his way to winning the man-of-the-match award and Wally Lewis Medal for man-of-the series honours.
Bennett blooded 10 debutants in 2001 in a series that culminated in Langer’s shock return from England for the decider.
Fast forward almost two decades and Bennett – a late replacement after Kevin Walters took the Brisbane NRL job – could see the similarities after a series Queensland were not given much hope externally of winning.
“We achieved something similar in 2001 when we brought Alf back for that third game and I think the key to us tonight was getting Munster back on the field,” he said.
“And we didn’t have to bring him from England, we just had to make sure his head was okay.
“He’s got a lot of Allan Langer characteristics about him, can just make it happen, just backs his instinct.”
Munster sent the 49,115 fans wild when he kicked and regathered before repeating the dose while in mid-air as he gathered again before chipping across field for another debutant, Edrick Lee, to score before halftime for a 12-6 lead.
Grant lunged for the line and scored for a 20-6 lead with 15 minutes to play, Queensland holding off the Blues’ late surge to win an eighth decider from the last nine contested.
A Daniel Tupou try and NSW penalty goal made it a six-point game inside the final 10 minutes, with Valentine Holmes twice fumbling chances to seal the result either side of that in a chaotic finish.
Fullback Corey Allan was binned with three minutes to go for blocking Josh Addo-Carr’s path as the NSW flyer raced to score.
The Maroons defended tenaciously with a man down for two sets and survived a last-ditch captain’s challenge to clinch a dramatic victory.
Holmes had scored first in the corner before James Tedesco planted the ball at the feet of a lost Daly Cherry-Evans in reply after debutant fullback Allan spilled a simple short kick.
Blues captain Tedesco’s night did not last much longer, after he slid headfirst into Josh Papalii’s knee and was replaced at the back by Clint Gutherson.
Blues playmaker Cody Walker ended a quiet night being stretchered off with a concussion, while Nathan Cleary’s best efforts went unrewarded as Bennett clinched an eighth Origin series victory and ended a two-year Blues streak.
Fittler tipped his cap to Queensland and Munster in particular and did not regret his decision to pick a forward-heavy bench, only their inability to ice the series opener in Adelaide.
“Up 10-0 in the first half and … we didn’t take advantage at all,” he said.
“We did it a couple of years ago, had plenty of debutants (and won) and this is what Origin is all about.
“It’s a great story for State of Origin again.”