NSW started the State of Origin series opener poorly and by the seventh minute their hopes evaporated when Joseph Suaalii was sent off for his horrendous hit on Reece Walsh.

The Blues debutant was rightly sent off for knocking out the Broncos star in a sickening hit, surprisingly Andrew Johns on Nine commentary tried to claim otherwise by saying “at this level” he was surprised that Suaalii was marched. 

He at least has the excuse of being a Blues great, even more surprisingly, Maroons legend Paul Vautin also claimed the tackle was careless but not deliberate and that he believe Walsh ducked into it so Suaalii should have not been removed from the game.

At any level, that kind of direct contact which leaves the opponent heavily concussed deserves nothing short of a send-off and Suaalii should face at least a few matches on the sidelines from the judiciary. 

Despite being outnumbered, Michael Maguire’s new-look side battled bravely for much of the match to not only ensure Queensland didn’t run away with the match but to stay in the contest until Ben Hunt touched down for his second try in the 67th minute to get their title defence off to a winning start to the tune of 38-10 on enemy turf.

The seventh-minute send-off was the quickest and just the sixth in Origin history.

Walsh’s head rocked back violently on impact and even though he later passed his HIA, he was ruled out for the rest of the match due to the category-one concussion. 

After fracturing his cheekbone earlier in the year, he will be out of Saturday’s Suncorp Stadium clash with Cronulla and could be in doubt for the next Origin at the MCG on June 26.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05: Joseph-Aukuso Sua'ali'i of the Blues is sent off by referee Ashley Klein during game one of the 2024 Men's State of Origin Series between New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 05, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Joseph Sua’alii is sent off by referee Ashley Klein. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

How the match unfolded

NSW halfback Nicho Hynes made an inauspicious start to his starting debut by grubbering over the dead-ball line in the third minute, which Johns described on Nine commentary as a “soft end to the set of six”.

Queensland capitalised on the error with Jeremiah Nanai’s run down the right edge providing the impetus for Daly Cherry-Evans to scamper out of dummy-half to find Ben Hunt backing up to score from close range, carrying Hynes over the line for an early 6-0 strike.

The Maroons were looking ominous from the ensuing kick-off when Walsh sprinted to the edge and put Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow streaking into the clear but he did not get to see his centre’s break because of the illegal Suaalii bellringer.

After a penalty goal soon after made it 8-0, the Blues showed they were not going to lie down despite being undermanned with recalled fullback James Tedesco latching onto a Jarome Luai kick in the 14th minute.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05:  Reece Walsh of the Maroons is attended to by Ben Hunt of the Maroons after been tackled by Joseph-Aukuso Sua'ali'i of the Blues during game one of the 2024 Men's State of Origin Series between New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 05, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Reece Walsh reels on the ground as Ben Hunt rushes in to help. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

But it was 14-6 to the Maroons midway through the first half when Jaydn Su’A and Selwyn Cobbo, on for Walsh, set up Tabuai-Fidow for his first try. 

“The Hammer” added another nail to the NSW coffin when the Maroons again targeted the Suaalii-less right edge of the defensive line with Cobbo and Murray Taulagi combining to give the Dolphins speedster a clear path to the stripe.

Spencer Leniu gave the Blues impact from the bench and he went perilously close to bridging the gap but was held up over the line and Queensland maintained their 20-6 buffer by the break.

The Blues began the second period fired up to draw first blood to stay in the contest and they did just that when Hynes piloted a high kick for Zac Lomax to showcase his peerless leaping ability.

DCE threw a spanner into their attempt to work their way closer on the scoreboard with a 40-20 kick in the 55th minute and Nanai looked like he would extend the lead but Reece Robson’s last-ditch cover tackle dislodged the ball from his Cowboys teammate as he reached over the line. 

Valentine Holmes was also denied a try by the bunker a few minutes later when Xavier Coates knocked down a bomb but it was ruled to have travelled forward to his centre.

Liam Martin produced a bone-rattling hit on J’maine Hopgood and Robson forced a turnover on the next play for the Blues to give themselves a sniff but after their attacking raid came unstuck, Hunt stepped past some tiring Blues tacklers to seal the result at 26-10 with 13 minutes left.

DCE latched onto an intercept and scurried as fast and as far as his 35-year-old legs would carry him before kicking ahead as Brian To’o converged for Coates to touch down just inside the dead-ball line.

Tabuai-Fidow finished off one last Maroons attacking raid to cap off the biggest win by a Queensland side in Sydney.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05:  Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow of the Maroons celebrates scoring a try with teammates during game one of the 2024 Men's State of Origin Series between New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 05, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow celebrates. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Blues show spirit despite being outnumbered

Queensland pounced early after the Suaalii send-off with a clear strategy to direct their attack to the left to bombard the weak point in the home team’s defensive line.

Before the Blues had a chance to get in synch, the Maroons had struck twice with Tabuai-Fidow finishing off the raid each time. 

But after that initial blitz, the Blues rarely looked like they were a player down. 

They tackled with venom, shared the defensive load and scrambled brilliantly to snuff out Queensland’s overlaps.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05: Zac Lomax of the Blues celebrates scoring a try during game one of the 2024 Men's State of Origin Series between New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 05, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Zac Lomax celebrates scoring a try. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Robson got through a mountain of defensive work to tackle himself to a standstill. 

Coaches often say it can be harder mentally for the team with 13 players after a send-off but when someone gets dispatched with 73 minutes on the clock, the physical fatigue eventually proves decisive.

“They have been extremely brave,” record-breaking former Maroons skipper Cameron Smith said in commentary about the Blues.

Maguire needs to make changes

Even though the final margin was not a reflection of their enormous effort, Michael Maguire will need to make changes for game two at the MCG on June 26 with the main question surrounding whether he sticks with his halves. 

Hynes and Luai combined well in patches but, whether it was the case of the team being outnumbered or their lack of experience together, they will be under pressure to retain their spots.

Eels halfback Mitchell Moses made a stunning return from a foot injury last week in vanquishing the Sharks so he could be an option for the second match of the series with first-choice playmaker Nathan Cleary out with his torn hamstring until the third match at the earliest.

Suaalii could be suspended for Origin II so the likes of Latrell Mitchell and Matt Burton will likely be the frontrunners to replace him at left centre. 

Lomax and Leniu were outstanding on debut – the Roosters prop needs to be elevated to the starting side in game two with Trbojevic switching to lock and Cameron McInnes reverting to the interchange.

Johns believes the NSW line-up deserves a shot at redemption.

“I think (Maguire) will totally neglect the score and not worry about it. There’s enough effort in the Blues jersey for them to go on and say ‘well you know what if we had 13 we’re a good chance of beating these blokes’,” he said.

“I think the fact you lose Joseph so early gives you a really good argument and I’ve got to say some of these blokes for the Blues have done themselves proud.”

If Walsh is sidelined for the Maroons, it will be Cobbo coming in at centre with Tabuai-Fidow at fullback with a veteran like Dane Gagai a chance to return on the bench as a utility.

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