By Martin Lenehan
The NSW Blues have squared the 2022 Origin series with a dominant 44-12 victory over the Maroons in Game Two in Perth.
Blues coach Brad Fittler made a number of changes after the loss in Sydney and was vindicated as Matt Burton shone on debut and Jake Trbojevic was immense in his return to the Origin arena.
The series now heads to Brisbane for a decider on July 13 with NSW carrying huge momentum and Billy Slater’s Maroons needing to regroup.
Six minutes into the contest it was Maroons flyer Selwyn Cobbo with a chance to open the scoring but he was denied by a great cover tackle from Brian To’o.
A penalty against Felise Kaufusi for a strip gave Nathan Cleary the chance to open the scoring and the Blues No.7 knocked over the kick to make it 2-0 after 12 minutes.
Cobbo again had an opportuntiy to score in the 16th minute when To’o made a mess of cleaning up a grubber but the young Bronco was unable to ground the ball.
Harry Grant’s injection into the game in the 23rd minute had an immediate impact as he jumped into dummy half and ignited a right side raid which featured Ben Hunt, Daly Cherry-Evans and Kalyn Ponga, who delivered the final pass for Felise Kaufusi to score.
Four minutes later the Blues hit back when debutant Matt Burton picked up a Nathan Cleary grubber and burst through Ponga’s tackle to score.
The speed of Ponga then came to the fore as he left Stephen Crichton in his wake and found Valentine Holmes in support and the centre delivered a perfect pass to Cameron Munster to put the Maroons up 12-8 after 31 minutes.
A huge turning point arrived in the 39th minute when Kaufusi was sin binned after repeated infringments in the ruck by Queensland and the Blues capitalised through To’o after slick hands from Cleary, Jarome Luai and Burton.
Ahead 14-12 at the break the Blues extended their lead in the 50th minute when a spilled bomb by Murray Taulagi opened the door for Cleary to set up Daniel Tupou with a long cutout pass. The halfback’s conversion made it 20-12.
With Cleary’s kicking game coming to the fore the Blues turned the screws and his Panthers team-mate Luai hit the scoreboard in the 59th minute with a sizzling solo effort which left Jeremiah Nanai and Dane Gagai in his wake.
In the 64th minute Cleary had his own moment of glory when he crossed for his first Origin try and the Blues were out to an unassailable 32-12 lead.
Cleary then took his own personal tally to 22 points with a second try and his sixth conversion as the Blues rubbed salt in the Maroons’ wounds.
Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton joined the party in the 74th minute as the score hit 44-12.
Among of host of stars for the Blues it was Cleary calling the shots in grand style with two try assists, three tackle breaks, two line breaks and eight goals from eight attempts for 24 points.