Maroons win with record post-lockdown crowd in Australia

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Queensland defeated New South Wales 20-14 the third and deciding State of Origin rugby league match on Wednesday before 49,155 fans in what organizers say was the biggest attendance for any sporting event worldwide since the lockdown for COVID-19.

The inexperienced Maroons saved it for their home ground to produce one of the biggest upsets in the 40-year history of the Origin series after being widely written off as the worst Queensland team in decades.

The normal capacity of 52,000 at Brisbane’s inner-city Suncorp Stadium was reduced by several thousand due to some biosecurity concerns, but it was still higher than the 46,000 attendance at a Bledisloe Cup rugby union match in New Zealand last month.

New Zealand and parts of Australia have lifted capacity restrictions at their sporting venues due to success in fighting the coronarivus pandemic.

Queensland defended with a man down in the final three minutes to win the decider, with Harry Grant changing the game after being brought on early in the first half to play from dummy-half. Grant lunged for the line and scored for a 20-6 lead with 15 minutes to play and Queensland held off the Blues’ late surge.

A Daniel Tupou try and a New South Wales penalty goal made it a six-point game inside the final 10 minutes, with Queensland’s Valentine Holmes twice fumbling chances to seal the result either side of that in a wild finish.

Queensland fullback Corey Allan was sent to the sin-bin for a professional foul with three minutes to go for blocking Josh Addo-Carr’s path to the try line as the Blues’ flyer raced to score. But the Maroons defended tenaciously with a man down for two sets of tackles.

Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans finished the trophy presentation by taking a dig at the critics of his team.

“We made a lot of sacrifice and a lot of people at home couldn’t be here tonight,” he said. “This is the best stadium in the world. And on behalf of the worst-ever Queensland team, thank you very much!”

Hooker Grant, 22, was one of 14 rookies, including four in the deciding match, used by veteran coach Wayne Bennett, who returned to guide the Maroons at late notice.

Queensland won the State of Origin 18-14 opener in Adelaide two weeks ago while New South Wales leveled the series with a 34-10 last week in Sydney.

Just as Queensland was in game 2, when Munster left the field in the second minute with injury, New South Wales was rocked when captain James Tedesco had to leave the field in the 20th minute because of a concussion. Another New South Wales playmaker, Cody Walker, was taken from the field in a medi-cab with five minutes remaining, also with a head injury.

The Origin series is usually played in June and July but was delayed until the end of the NRL season because of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic which initially forced a lockdown in March.

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