Chin up, Blues! Great second game Origin comebacks

I enjoy the simple pleasures in life – a little bit of doom and gloom south of the border and possibly some wailing and gnashing of teeth, maybe a ritualistic tarring and feathering of a New South Wales halfback.

But today I’d like to show my empathetic side and say to all NSW supporters: do not despair! The series isn’t over yet, and history shows us that turnarounds are not only possible but actually very common.

In the 40 years of multi-game Origin series the team that has lost the first game has come back to win the second fixture 21 times. Yes, that is slightly more than half the time. Do not despair, Blues fans, you have at least a 50-50 shot next time around.

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On ten of those occasions the team that lost first and won second went on to win the series – to be fair, seven of those times it was Queensland, but still. If you can just get over that second game hurdle – and remember, that is ever so slightly more likely than not – then you will have virtually a 50-50 chance of taking out the series.

Aren’t statistics a comfort in these troubled times? It’s almost like you go into each match with an even-money chance of winning.

Teams have also come from a lot further back than the paltry six-point deficit suffered in Sydney to redeem themselves. In 2001 New South Wales were walloped in Game 1 by 18 points and came back to win the second game 26-8. They did go on to lose the series, but that’s not the point. Big deficits, destroyed kicking games and shattered dreams can be turned around.

In fact that 36-point turnaround was matched by NSW just recently, in 2019. A Game 1 loss by four points turned into a 32-point thrashing in the return bout, and in this case the Blues did go on to take the series. A team has even managed a 38-point turnaround between Games 1 and 2: Queensland in 2008.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The highest Game 1 losing margin that a team has come back from is a whopping 28. In 2002 Queensland were shredded in the opener 32-4 and still won Game 2 and the series. Then there was the pre-Origin series of 1940 where Queensland managed to lose the opening match 52-11 – in the three-point try era no less – and still take the series with a 44-point turnaround to Game 2.

And if we cast our minds back even slightly further, in 1926 Queensland lost the first two interstate matches and still won a five-game series. Okay, so that bit of history is not relevant here and isn’t designed to make the southerners feel better, but it is very, very cool.

So the message here, Blues fans, is don’t lose faith. Don’t stick pins into your Ashton Sims doll. Don’t send Latrell Mitchell out on crutches. Don’t ask Brad Fittler to come up with a coherent game plan. Just have faith. Many teams have come back from a first-up loss – okay, many Queensland teams have, but a few NSW sides have managed this as well.

New South Wales comebacks to win an Origin series after losing Game 1

1994: NSW lost the first match 12-16 but won the second 14-0

“That’s not a try. That’s a miracle!”. Yes, 1994 was that year. Queensland won Game 1 on the back of a Mark Coyne try that still gets a run in the highlights reels each year. After a couple of lean years for the Maroons, it looked like the Emperor of Lang Park would be their talisman as a coach as well.

It was not to be. An all-star Blues team shut Queensland out in Game 2 by 14 to nothing and wrapped up the decider in convincing fashion 27-12.

2005: NSW lost the first match 20-24 up won the second 32-22

A Blues side missing Andrew Johns went down in the opener as Joey’s replacement, Brett Kimmorley, threw a late pass that was gobbled up by Matt Bowen for an intercept try and a four-point victory.

However, Johns returned for Game 2 and put on a man-of-the-match performance before New South Wales overwhelmed Queensland in the decider at Lang Park, racing to a 34-0 lead before winning 34-10.

2019: NSW lost the first match 14-18 but won the second 38-6

Queensland won Game 1 by a single try. A spine of Kalyn Ponga, Cam Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans and Ben Hunt looked too strong for NSW, and the knives were out for Nathan Cleary. Sound familiar?

The Blues brought in habitual winner Jimmy Maloney for Game 2 in Perth (another coincidence?) and NSW embarrassed Queensland 38-6 before wrapping up the series in Sydney. Okay, this year the decider isn’t in Sydney, and I’m guessing even Brad Fittler isn’t mad enough to try and locate James Maloney, but apart from that, the situation is pretty similar to 2022. Many of the current Blues side can look back at their own experiences to show that the mountain can be climbed.

So in the spirit of brotherhood I say: chin up, NSW. And if you do win next week, that will make my trip to Suncorp on 13 July that much sweeter as the mighty Maroons take the decider and rip that hope right out from under the poor Blues. After all, it’s the hope that kills you.