Queensland have provided one final highlight for Billy Slater, downing NSW 18-12 in State of Origin III in Brisbane to provide a fitting farewell and deny the Blues their first series whitewash in 18 years.
While it was an emotional send-off for stand-in skipper Slater in his 31st and final Origin, it marked a happy return for Maroons halfback Daly Cherry-Evans in front of a 51,214-strong crowd.
The polarising playmaker finally won over the Maroons faithful with a masterful display in his first Origin in three years.
Keen for their first sweep since 2000, NSW looked like they would play the role of party poopers when they somehow snatched a 12-8 halftime lead despite having five-eighth James Maloney in the bin and little possession.
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And man of the moment Slater had been denied a try not once but twice.
Yet the Maroons dug deep to recapture the never say die attitude that had propelled them to 11 series wins in the last 12 years to finally break their 2018 duck.
Slater was named not only man of the match but Wally Lewis Medallist for player of the series, despite missing the opening game with a hamstring injury.
“This is really special. Wally was a hero while I was growing up, to win this award for the second time will go down as one of my biggest achievements,” Slater said.
“I love playing for Queensland. I have had the privilege to do it 31 times. To lead them out first (as captain), it was a special moment.”
Slater took over the Maroons captaincy for the first time in his final game after Greg Inglis broke his thumb.
With Inglis sidelined, Slater was the last man standing from Queensland’s 2006 team that sparked their remarkable decade of dominance.
It closed the curtain on Slater’s 14-year Origin career but it seems Cherry-Evans’ is about to take off.
The Manly skipper looked to have ended speculation he had fallen out with the Maroons by becoming their poster boy on Wednesday.
He had a hand in winger Valentine Holmes’ second try in the 51st minute before crashing over himself seven minutes later after a Cameron Munster break, giving the hosts the winning lead.
“Three years is a long time in rugby league … I am stoked to be a part of it again,” Cherry-Evans said.
“Unfortunately this series had already passed us by by the time I got a shot but I’m going to do everything I can to get back here next year.”
The early signs weren’t good for Slater when he was denied a fourth minute try off a Cherry-Evans kick, with the video referee ruling a knock on.
And in the 31st, Slater was obstructed by Maloney trying to reel in a Cameron Munster grubber.
Maloney was sin binned – but it was the Blues who struck next.
Remarkably NSW endured six straight sets by Queensland as they were forced to kick goal-line drop-out after drop-out before sinking the slipper into the hosts.
With Queensland enjoying 70 per cent possession, NSW defied being a man down by scoring twice in three minutes through Tom Trbojevic (37th) and James Tedesco (40th).
NSW centre Latrell Mitchell may be in strife for a third minute shoulder charge on Slater.