The Maroons lost three men in five minutes. This is how they found a way to win

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Johnathan Thurston, who has claimed Origin wins with his arm falling off and celebrated them from a wheelchair, lost it. Just a little bit.

“And that was in the first half! The players were pretty calm, I wasn’t,” Thurston said of the madcap final 13 minutes in Adelaide.

The sin-binned Tom Flegler sat in the sheds, a lonely man surrounded by more than 48,000 punters.

Tom Gilbert sat on the sideline, his dislocated shoulder slung up and already resigned to missing games two and three. Murray Taulagi joined him following concussion protocols. Selwyn Cobbo limped over, too.

“David Fifita and Benny Hunt defending in the centres, everyone else shuffles out and you’re down to 12,” Thurston, a Maroons assistant, trainer and on-field messenger along with fellow Queensland great Nate Myles, explained.

“We learned a little bit from that first half when I was running round. Nate grabbed me at one point and goes, ‘Oi, JT, just calm the eff down mate’. I love the game and I’m a fan these days … I lost it a little bit.

In his elelemt: Maroons assistant coach Johnathan Thurston.Credit: Getty

“But when we got to that last 20 minutes, Nate and I were just reminding each other to keep calm and keep it really simple for the players. Especially with all those interchanges and shuffles, nothing more than, ‘This is what you’re doing, you two talk to each other’. That’s all you give them and that’s all you can.”

Even when Nathan Cleary cooly slotted a tough conversion for an 18-16 lead, and two tackles later Flegler was on report and on his way for hitting Tom Trbojevic in the head, it really was all they needed.

Never mind the hip knock that left Cobbo lame on their right wing, bringing Hunt back from the bench at centre and Valentine Holmes one spot wider after Crichton’s try.

For the amateur psychologists, Queensland pulled on their blue hats – organisation and planning. No distinction between navy and sky blue, unfortunately.

Cobbo’s 68th-minute subbing was the Maroons’ sixth of the game. When Taulagi was called off and replaced by Jai Arrow, Billy Slater rolled out his last change in same play.

Fifita plugged a hole at left centre, Reuben Cotter played “the first game of his life on an edge” and Lindsay Collins came on for Tino Fa’asuamaleaui in the middle.

And it’s still 18-16. Not for long though, as the Blues are played off a break and Cameron Munster creates a numbers advantage despite playing with the exact opposite, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow streaking away 40 seconds after Queensland’s last interchange is used.

Collins can point to a childhood playing “a bit of AFL, a bit of volleyball, and I’m tall anyway, so it looks like I can jump” for his match-winning leap over James Tedesco to set up Munster’s try two minutes later.

The 10 minutes of madness that typifies the Maroons

  • 67th min: Crichton scores from a Cleary kick and Cobbo, after struggling for several minutes, succumbs to a hip injury. Hunt comes on at centre and Holmes moves to the wing. NSW take an 18-16 lead.

  • 68th min: Flegler hits Tom Trbojevic high in the next set and is sent to the sin bin, with Hynes replacing Trbojevic at right centre.

  • 69th min: NSW march downfield and force a repeat set, Walsh covering up a smart grubber under pressure from Martin. A short drop-out comes down to Fa’asuamaleaui.

  • 70-71st min: A penalty sends Queensland on the attack and they target the Blues right-edge through Munster and Walsh. Taulagi hits the deck hard and cops a head knock late in the set.

  • 72nd min: Play is stopped for Taulagi to be called from the field for a HIA. Arrow replaces him and Collins is brought on with Queensland’s last interchange.

  • 73rd min: Queensland swing left and Munster is able to engineer space and send Tabuai-Fidow down the sideline, the Dolphins flyer stepping inside Tedesco to score.

  • 74th min: Holmes takes his time over the conversion, nailing it home for a 22-18 advantage.

  • 75th min: Crichton knocks on trying to claim a short kick-off from NSW.

  • 76th min: Collins takes the third carry in a Queensland yardage set before chasing through a bomb from Cherry-Evans. He out leaps Tedesco, unfurls a one-handed offload and Munster scores.

  • 77th min: Holmes misses the conversion but the Maroons are already leading 26-18.

  • 78th min: Flegler returns from the sin bin and Queensland close out one of the most famous wins in Origin history.

But as for not just defending the seemingly indefensible, but bagging two tries in the most Queensland fashion imaginable, Collins was speechless. Just a big, proud, goofy grin, missing tooth and all.

“It should’ve been chaotic, but it just wasn’t,” Collins said.

Gilbert, who had no idea he was the source of a first half penalty because he had left the field of play, then tried to play on as a 14th man unaware Collins had replaced him, marvelled at the carnage unfolding around the Maroons bench with every passing minute.

“I was amazed at it all,” Gilbert said. “I sat out there on the bench, it was important to me to be out there showing my support after my shoulder went and it should have been chaos.

“But JT and Mylesy kept pulling guys off, kept updating the plans and kept it calm. We had one [fit] bloke left and no interchange to use him. I’m so proud of that effort from the boys.”

Flegler, meanwhile, was the forgotten man. Marched up into the bowels of the Don Bradman stand with only Maroons team manager Joe McDermott for company, he watched the contest unfold without him on a TV screen in Queensland’s dressing room.

The roars from above might have been muted by concrete and insulation. But Flegler’s head noise was louder than ever as 600 seconds of game-play, and almost the same in stoppages, ticked away.

“Just me and Joe, sitting in the sheds,” Flegler laughed, a relieved man to say the least.

“We’d look at each other once and then just staring at that screen. I didn’t know how the boys would react and I’d already seen Cobbo go off, and then Muz [Taulagi] came off straight after me too.

“Thought I might have some company in there but nope, a pretty lonely 10 minutes. And then I ran back out there and we’re up, can’t complain about that can I?”

Not when that Myles message and age-old Maroons mantra ring as true as ever.

Calm the eff down, and find a way.

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