The 1990s was an important decade for State of Origin’s outreach, and its reputation for being entertaining, unpredictable and volatile on the pitch. The development of those crucial ‘competitive edge’ areas was catalysed by the first Melbourne-based game in 1990, and then further grown the likes of ranking kasyn by what is thus far the only exchange of 3-0 victories in successive years (1995 and 1996), in which Queensland and NSW respectively swept their series.
However, the biggest shock of all came at the very end of the decade, when the series ended in a draw for the first time ever, leaving it all to play for as the new millennium approached.
Kevin Walters set the Maroons en-route to victory in 1998’s edition of Game III.
New South Wales had enjoyed the lion’s share of success during the 1990s. However, 1998 saw the tide turn in favour of the Maroons, who benefitted from the return of several Brisbane Broncos players. The change in rules that allowed the return has had a domino effect on present-day NRL betting odds, forever shifting them in favour of Queensland, but the Maroons’ series win of 1998 created more questions than answers. Indeed, had NSW dominated the mid-1990s simply by virtue of their opponents being given mitigating circumstances?
The fact that the 1998 series was also the first to see no home wins made its successor all the more unpredictable. The opening game of the series was played in conditions of high humidity, which perhaps explains why the players were so lacking in energy for what should have been a ‘blood and thunder’ opening to Origin 1999.
The previous year’s opening game had been a pulsating 24-23 win for Queensland, but neither side got double figures this time, with Queensland winning 9-8. The single-point win was perhaps the only saving grace of this game, giving it something of a dramatic air. NSW were, in fact, leading 8-0 until the 74th minute, but Mat Rogers had a debut to remember, getting nine points – including a field goal – to seal the six-minute comeback.
This game saw the main Olympic Stadium for Sydney 2000 make its Origin bow. The rain was teeming down, and with NSW still reeling from a last-gasp defeat in Game I, Wayne Pearce restored Geoff Toovey to the side as a hooker. This increased NSW’s options, and the new system worked wonders, with Robbie Ross scoring the then-fastest try of Origin’s history within the first minute.
Queensland hit back, with Rogers again proving to be the bogeyman of NSW, with his try and conversion giving the Maroons the lead. It was to be a short-lived one, however, with NSW veteran Laurie Daley marking the second instalment of his Origin finale by intercepting a long, wasteful Queensland pass and scoring to restore the Blues’ lead. 12-8 is how it stayed throughout the remainder of the match.
Tempers flare in Game II.
The wet conditions persisted for this decider. A victory for Queensland would mark the Maroons’ first run of successive series wins for ten years, while a win for NSW would dismiss the previous year as a blip in a decade that belonged to the Blues. NSW captain Brad Fittler – who would go on to coach NSW to a great victory in 2018 – was absent, putting the pressure on Daley to deliver in his final Origin game.
However, Daley proved equal to the task, setting up Terry Hill for the first quartet of NSW points. Paul Green responded with a try, with Darren Lockyer converting to make it 6-4 to the Maroons. Still recovering from a dislocated shoulder, Adrian Lam provided Lockyer with an excellent pass to make it 10-4 and give Queensland full license to defend for their lives.
They did so to the effect of holding on to the shield, but not before Matt Geyer levelled, to spark a final thrust from NSW. Had a botched pass from Daley to Ross been delivered cleanly, then NSW may have wrested the title away at the death. As it was, the ball hit the ground, signalling the first ever drawn series of Origin.