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.
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.
|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 with tries to their Parramatta stars in Eric Grothe, Sr. and Mick Cronin who would later that year feature in the Eels' inaugural premiership victory. The first of Grothe's two tries was after he swooped upon a wayward pass by Maroons' hooker Greg Conescu and raced 90-metres down the touchline to score. Queensland took back some momentum just before half-time when winger Brad 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 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 and were surprised when it never came. 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 referee Steel awarded Meninga a penalty try after he ruled an illegal tackle by Blues centre Steve Rogers. 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