NSW succumb to the State of Origin curse, yet again

Crunch: Jake Trbojevic is tackled on Wednesday night. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Crunch: Jake Trbojevic is tackled on Wednesday night. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

July is the hardest month for NSW Blues fans. You spend most of it searching in vain for reasons you were so optimistic back in May. Those reasons will come back to you, but not until May next year.

The American novelist Richard Russo once wrote much the same thing about the Boston Red Sox, a team of losers so perennial that they, and their fans, were thought to be cursed.

Somehow, in the past 12 years, the New South Wales Origin team and their supporters have fallen into that cursed circle: not simply losers, but those who seemed chosen, by an invisible hand, to lose. In the locker room of the damned, they slump alongside the Chicago Cubs, the AFL's Saints, Demons and Tigers, the Netherlands in World Cup soccer, South Africa and England in World Cup cricket, Greg Norman at the Masters. Snakebit.

Like children with perverse fathers who raised them to cheer for the Washington Generals, NSW children born this century might be asking: "Why?"

Why?

Curses take time to ferment, and Queensland's 22-6 win in Brisbane was born before Wednesday night. The series was won and lost during 20 calamitous minutes in Sydney three weeks ago, when the Blues closed out the match like Jana Novotna serving for a Wimbledon title. Perhaps it was lost back in NSW's three-peat year of 2005. Who let that black cat into the celebrations? There has to be an investigation.

On the field, a curse manifests itself deceptively, as an imbalance of skill and luck. Queensland had superior skill in abundance on Wednesday, and the difference crystallised in a short passage of play in the middle of the second half.

Trailing, improbably, by just six points, NSW had all the running. They received a penalty in front of the posts, a chance to close the gap to four.

Momentum tipping over to hubris, they went for a try. On the next play, Blake Ferguson was in on the right wing, but James Tedesco's pass went behind his shoulder.

Four tackles later, Boyd Cordner's pass went behind the shoulder of a try-bound Tedesco, and another chance was lost.

Moments later, at the other end of the field, Cameron Munster's pass went behind the shoulder of Valentine Holmes, but the Queensland winger reached behind, twirled it on his fingers, gathered it in, shrugged off two tacklers, and scored. Elementary, my dear Holmes.

Skill? Yes. The game pivoted on many such points, but, like the pre-match national anthem, and then the Queensland state song of 'Bullshit! Bullshit!' all of these moments turned the same way. In truth, Queensland should have won by more.

Their champion captain, Cameron Smith, bombed a try by not passing to unmarked men on the left flank. It didn't matter. (Jarryd Hayne bombed one similarly in Sydney. It did matter.)

Queensland's champion halfback, Cooper Cronk, bombed a try by diving for the line too low and too early, spilling the ball. A smart play by the half, but too smart by half.

It didn't matter either, because when there is something in the water, the result feels pre-determined and it is left to the players only to fill in the details.

As Mitchell Pearce sent another kick down Billy Slater's throat and another pass to the wrong side of Cordner's body, a thought sprang to mind.

Or a memory.

Familiarity can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You've seen it happen so often before, your brain is tricked into making it happen again.

 So New South Wales went down as they have gone down before: trying their hearts out, beating on against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The remarkable thing about their losing run is how close so many games have been, and how 10 of those 11 series losses have been by a margin of two games to one.

For all the great Queensland players and the superior natural talents, they have triumphed most of all through their will and their nerve.

 An uplifting conclusion: six weeks ago, after Qld were beaten 28-4 in Brisbane, there were commentators who feared for the future of Origin.

Here's the beauty of the concept.

A weak Queensland means a dying Origin, but with New South Wales beaten for the 11th time in 12 years, nobody fears for the future. That curse is Origin's kiss of life.

But it's a long time till next May.