Billy Slater’s decision to blood four rookies on the same night he launched his own Origin coaching career paid off in spectacular fashion on Wednesday night as his new boys channelled the Queensland of old to help carry their state to a 16-10 win.
From Selwyn Cobbo’s composure to Jeremiah Nanai’s courage, from Patrick Carrigan’s impact to Reuben Cotter’s aggression … Billy’s kids covered themselves in glory as Queensland tasted victory in Sydney for the first time since 2017.
Just as they had in 2020, when eight debutants helped the Maroons to an 18-14 win in Game One in Adelaide, the newcomers did all that was expected of them and more in the pivotal opening encounter.
After running for 134 metres and making 51 tackles in a barnstorming 80-minute display, Cotter earned plenty rave reviews from his coach and team-mates alike, with Slater declaring ‘he is Queensland!’
Entering the Origin cauldron on the back of 10 no-nonsense performances for the Cowboys this season, Cotter arrived in Maroons camp confident he could do a job but cautious not to get ahead of himself.
Charging onto Accor Stadium in front of 80,000 fans was a buzz, sending the vast majority of them home unhappy was another moment to savour.
“There was a bond straight away when we got into camp. I feel like we’re all pretty close now especially with that win under our belt,” Cotter said.
“Running out to that crowd was surreal and to win down here in front of a packed stadium means so much more.
“It was everything I expected and more. The feeling amongst the group has been great all week and to get the win is pretty special.
“I felt better as the game went on but they kept coming at us and the last 10 minutes was another level so I had to dig deep, I had no choice.”
One man who had no doubt Cotter would answer the call was Rockhampton product Harry Grant, who played alongside the Cowboys tearaway in their junior days.
“I played a lot of footy growing up [for Capricornia School Sport] with Reuben so I knew what he was capable of,” Grant said.
“He doesn’t let you down as a team-mate, he’s a player you want to play alongside because you know he is just going to turn up and do all the crappy stuff.
“He put in a lot of effort tonight and he gets rewarded and that’s good to see.
“It’s awesome to see him getting a lot of back-to-back games this year and he earned that Origin debut and he certainly put his heart on his sleeve out there and didn’t let anyone down.”
It’s a theme that resonated throughout Slater’s 17-minute media conference on Wednesday night as the Maroons legend saluted the rookies who’d repaid his faith in spades.
Bronco Pat Carrigan’s first foray into Origin footy yielded 183 running metres and 34 tackles while Cobbo laid on a try with a deft grubber and Nanai showed great courage to return to the field after rolling his ankle early in the second half.
“Pat Carrigan, he’s a real player. We didn’t have to put his name up on the screen when he came on, everyone knew he was there,” Slater said.
“His first carry was a real momentum shift for us. One of our best sets in the first half came off Patty’s carry and then he made a real statement with his defence.
“There’s some good forwards at the Broncos but Patty’s a leader amongst them and that was a great debut.
“Same with Selwyn Cobbo. You could imagine the Aboriginal community of Cherbourg right now, one of their own has just played for Queensland in a wonderful performance.
“And Jeremiah Nanai, what a tough performance from a 19-year-old, to come back and say ‘I’m ready to go, put me back out there’.
“He’s in that dressing room now eating a pizza with ice on his ankle… there’s some proud boys in that dressing room and they deserve to be.
“I’m so proud to be a Queenslander and really proud to be the coach of that group of players.”