Queensland defeated NSW 30-12 to win their first State of Origin Under-20s match since its inception in 2012.
Queensland defeated NSW 30-12 to win their first State of Origin Under-20s match since its inception in 2012. NRL Photos

The Origin storyline we all missed

YES, the Maroons avoiding a NSW whitewash and sending Billy Slater out a winner was a fantastic reason to celebrate last week.

Even if Queensland lost the series, to put in such a performance with a number of key names out of the Game III line-up proved the Maroons boast greater depth than many previously believed.

But in the aftermath of that nail-biting contest, one important detail has been overlooked by many Queensland fans.

And no I am not talking about whether Slater should or should not have received player of the series. Rather the historic result the Queensland under-20s achieved just hours earlier at Suncorp Stadium.

Led by Johnathan Thurston's heir-apparent, Northern Pride half Jake Clifford, the young Maroons achieved what no other side had previously.

In the eighth such meeting between the Queensland and NSW U20 sides, this was the first time the Blues did not finish on the positive side of the ledger.

It was a breakthrough occasion witnessed by only the staunchest rugby league fans having arrived earlier than necessary in anticipation of sending Slater out on a winning note. But the importance of the 30-12 win is far greater than what it appeared on face value.

In a State of Origin series where NSW started as clear favourites and for the first time in more than a decade had a legitimate chance of a white-wash, hard questions were starting to be asked of Kevin Walters and his Maroons.

Without Smith, Cronk, Thurston, and Slater, had Queensland's dominance on the game's biggest stage come to an end? Were we witnessing the start of a NSW dynasty?

While the jury is still out on that question, the performance of the young Maroons provided at least a bright spark of hope for the future.

Clifford, the Intrust Super Cup's second-highest point scorer, showed he can do it in a Queensland jersey with an impressive 18-point individual performance against the young Blues.

Against highly-touted NSW prospect Kyle Flanagan - son of Cronulla coach Shane - it was Clifford's star which shined the brightest in the Origin arena.

With the Cowboys almost certainly out of finals contention at this point, it would not surprise if the 20-year-old - who Jets coach Shane Walker labelled earlier this year as "the best since Cherry-Evans" - was handed an NRL debut before season's end.

And Clifford had many friends last Wednesday who outclassed their opposite number in Blue.



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