1981 State of Origin game
The 1981 State of Origin game was the second such match between arch rivals Queensland and New South Wales to be played under State of Origin selection rules. Again it was played as the third game of an already-decided 3-game series. New South Wales' victories in the first two games under the "state of residency" selection rules were, however, the last matches of this kind to ever be played as the following year the Origin concept was fully embraced.
The match featured a stunning comeback by the Maroons, an all-in-brawl, a 90-metre try by Eric Grothe, Sr. and the second consecutive man-of-the-match performance from Queensland three-quarter back, Chris Close.
Despite the success of the 1980 State of Origin game, there was still opposition to the game going ahead from certain parts of the Sydney media. One who had opposed the game the year before, The Daily Mirror's Ron Casey, was still against the concept and wrote "It's a mark of the lack of sophistication of Brisbane football fans that they will accept as serious football the State of Origin match on Tuesday week. Its just an excuse for 30,000 fans to see top footballers thrown together for a Lang Park Roman Holiday. The game will prove nothing except that Brisbane is the only place in the world that would take it seriously." Though it seemed that it wasn't just the media who opposed the game. In a column in the Sunday Telegraph, NSW and Australian centre Steve Rogers wrote: "And while we are on the State of Origin match, I hope it is canned this year. The players have enough representative football this season with the tour by France. The players don't relish the thought of the match and to put it on after a side has toured here is a bit hard".
With rugby league officials from NSW still not convinced of the State of Origin format, the 1980 model was repeated in 1981 when the first two matches were played under the old residential selection criteria. The Queensland residents were competitive than they had been in years, losing 10-2 at Lang Park and 22-9 at Leichhardt Oval for New South Wales to take the series before the third match reverted to the new Origin selection criteria and the intensity again picked up.
Queensland needed to call on only four Sydney-based players - winger Mitch Brennan from Souths, second-rower Paul McCabe from Easts and front-rowers Rod Morris (Balmain) and Paul Khan (Cronulla). Maroons Captain-coach Arthur Beetson, who was seeing out his playing days at age 36 with Redcliffe, had been in fine form for the two residential clashes, but pulled out with an eye injury on the day of the match, giving the Queensland captaincy to 21 year old five-eighth Wally Lewis. Beetson later told the real reason he pulled out of the game was that he had lost the motivation to keep playing representative football after being overlooked for the test series against France (Beetson was reportedly in line for his first test since 1977, but NSWRL boss Kevin Humphreys voted against Beetson with a view to the Kangaroos future and felt he had nothing left to offer the test side).
NSW had originally selected South Sydney's Michael Pattison to play Five-eighth, but when he fell ill on the morning of the game, selectors chose young Wests player Terry Lamb as his replacement and rushed him to Brisbane on the afternoon of the game. This was against the wishes of coach Ted Glossop who wanted to move Steve Rogers to the halves, Phil Sigsworth to the centres, bring in Garry Dowling as fullback and play Lamb from the bench. The team actually trained in those positions on the day of the game and according to Glossop, the experienced Cronulla centre trained very well in the position and combined well with Qld born Peter Sterling who was making his Origin debut for the Blues. Glossop later recounted that he was told of Lamb's selection immediately after training and even then thought of going his own way until told the NSWRL insisted that Lamb play 5/8 and Rogers would not play anywhere but in the centres. Sterling, who had represented City Seconds earlier in the season, was a surprise choice over incumbent test halfback Steve Mortimer who had made his test debut a few weeks earlier against France. Mortimer reportedly paid the price for the Australia's less than convincing 17-2 second test win against the weak French. The Canterbury halfback who had played in the two State of Residence games preceding the Origin game, described his demotion as "A nice kick in the guts."
|Queensland||22–15||New South Wales|
|Mal Meninga (13)
Brad Backer (3)
Chris Close (3)
Wally Lewis (3)
|(Report)||(9) Mick Cronin
(6) Eric Grothe, Sr.
Opposing props Morris and Steve Bowden clashed in an early tackle. Minutes later Lewis sought out rookie NSW five-eighth Terry Lamb and gave him a rugged welcome. The next scrum erupted into a brawl with Bowden and Morris singled out by referee Steel as the chief instigators, with both then sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes. In that period the Blues raced to a 15-0 lead thanks to their Parramatta connection of Peter Sterling, Ray Price, Eric Grothe and Mick Cronin, with Price and Sterling setting up one try for Grothe and another for Cronin (all four players would later that year feature in the Eels' inaugural premiership victory). This was the second of Grothe's tries for the game, the first came after he swooped upon a wayward pass by Maroons' hooker Greg Conescu and raced 90-metres down the touchline, busting through the tackles of Brad Backer and Colin Scott to score. With the score 15-0 it looked like the days of old with NSW dominating. However, Queensland took back some momentum just before half-time when winger Backer grabbed a try off a long pass from McCabe to make it 15-5.
Following the break Lewis sparked a second-half Maroons revival when he burst through a narrow gap on a long, diagonal run to score a dazzling (and much-replayed) individual try. Minutes after the restart came an enduring moment that has become part of Origin folklore. Queensland fullback Colin Scott fielded a kick near halfway and split the defence in a 45 metre charge that ended just short of the line thanks to a despairing tackle by Grothe (who had taken started almost 10 metres behind Scott when he started the chase). Grothe clung to Scott's ankles as he waited for his team mates to get back, but in a now-famous image, Chris Close backhanded Grothe out of the way, picked up the ball from dummy-half and placed it over the line right next to the posts for a try. NSW players would later claim they hung back from tackling Close as they expected to receive a penalty for the back hander from referee Kevin Steele and were surprised when it never came (there were claims that Grothe had injured himself when he tackled Scott, though Close disputes this saying he first yelled at Grothe to let go before back handing him when he didn't move). Mal Meninga converted to take the score to 15-all.
The momentum was now fully with Queensland and frustrated Blues lock Ray Price appeared to head-butt Queensland forward Chris Phelan in the play the ball. He was penalised and Meninga's kick put the Maroons in front for the first time in the game. In the final moments of the game, Meninga grubber kicked the ball into the NSW in-goal and gave chase, but he was tackled without the ball by Steve Rogers before he could get to it causing referee Steele to award Qld a penalty try. Meninga converted to complete Queensland's victory, setting a standard of expectation for miraculous Queensland comebacks that has been met time and time again in subsequent contests.
New South Wales Team
|Centre||Steve Rogers (c)|
|Wing||Eric Grothe, Sr.|
|Second Row||Peter Tunks|
|Second Row||Les Boyd|
Of Queensland's fifteen players used, four were selected from New South Wales clubs.
|Five-Eighth||Wally Lewis (c)|
|Second Row||Rohan Hancock|
|Second Row||Paul McCabe|
- State of Origin 1981 at rugbyleagueproject.org