Mal Meninga hails his victorious Maroons

IAN MCCULLOUGH
Last updated 08:09 05/07/2012
Petero Civoniceva and Mal Meninga
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Petero Civoniceva and Mal Meninga

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Mal Meninga hailed his "champion" Queensland side after Cooper Cronk's late field goal sealed a seventh successive State of Origin in a thrilling encounter in Brisbane.

A 40-metre field goal by Cronk with four minutes remaining shattered NSW and secured a 21-20 victory for the Maroons in an absorbing encounter at Suncorp Stadium.

"What a champion footy side. To win seven in a row, it takes something pretty special," said Meninga.

"You've got to understand the enormity of the challenge of going into every series as favourites.

"It takes a lot of fortitude, a lot of effort and commitment, and we had to be all of that tonight.

"And because of that effort, we're in there celebrating."

Meninga revealed Cronk stayed behind after Queensland's final training session on Tuesday for half an hour to practise field goals and skipper Cameron Smith said the Kangaroos star scored from a similar distance for Melbourne against Brisbane last year.

"I've seen him slot quite a few in training," Smith said.

"But in a game situation, it's quite hard. He did it against Brisbane from almost the same blade of grass.

"We knew it was going to be a close game and Coop slotted one there to win it at the end."

Smith said the series was the toughest he's played and the result, in his first campaign as full-time captain, was one of the best moments of his career as it sent the retiring Petero Civoniceva out as a winner.

"He's (Civoniceva) done some great things for our team," Smith said.

"He plays in the toughest position on the field and, every time he turns up, he plays with courage. He's been like a dad to a lot of us.

"People who paid $130 for a ticket got their value for money. It was one of the best Origins. It was so close, two great sides, and it went right down to the wire. It's what Origin is all about.

"I lifted the shield once in Sydney, but there was only about 300 people left in the ground!"

Blues coach Ricky Stuart admitted the result was very hard to take but had no complaints about the loss.

"It's hard to describe," Stuart said.

"We prepared well but, unfortunately, good preparations don't mean you win.

"Seeing the boys in the sheds, they didn't deserve to lose. But Queensland didn't either. It was a cracker of a field goal from Cooper.

"I think the last 15 minutes of the first half is where we lost the game."

Stuart and skipper Paul Gallen said the decision to award a controversial try to Justin Hodges, with Ben Hannant appearing to obstruct Beau Scott, was a tough call but refused to slam referees Tony Archer and Ben Cummins.

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"It was the best game I've been involved in. Both teams ripped in," Gallen said.

"I thought the referees did OK - a few calls went our way as well.

"But we have to get better still. They're a good side who have played for eight or nine years.

"But it doesn't say pride and effort on the trophy. It says 2-1.

"We'll come back next year and we'll be ready again."

Queensland's Brent Tate was put on report for striking in the second minute.

- AAP

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