It wasn’t just a try. In commentator Ray Warren’s immortal words, what Mark Coyne finished at the Sydney Football Stadium in 1994 was “a miracle”.
Without a doubt, that try set the scene for what was to follow in the years to come when all seemed lost for the Queensland Maroons.
Think the 1995 State of Origin series as a whole, won 3-0 by Paul Vautin’s men against the odds. Think Tonie Carroll’s last gasp try in the 1998 series opener to secure a 24-23 victory. Think Darren Lockyer’s heroics at the end of the 2006 series decider in Melbourne when he swooped on a Brett Hodgson pass to score under the sticks and kick-start a decade of dominance.
Coyne’s try in the final moments of the 1994 series opener to secure a 16-12 win will be celebrated at a Men of League luncheon in Brisbane on Friday, 25 years after the magic moment became forever part of Maroons folklore.
Coyne will be there to wax lyrical on his try, as will the men who figured in that incredible moment. There were eight of them in all, including Mal Meninga and Allan Langer who both handled twice in a try that went through a perfect 10 sets of hands.
That try was stunning enough, but what it has done for Queensland since cannot be underestimated. It is a moment that is replayed every year at Origin time to provide hope and instil belief that miracles do happen.
Coyne had a stellar career for the St George Illawarra Dragons, Maroons and Australia, but when he walks the streets he is remembered as “the miracle maker”, as he told me when I interviewed him for Rugby League Week magazine in 2012.
“I’d like to think I had a career where I achieved a lot of great things, but people only remember me for that try - a fantastic thing to be a part of,” Coyne said.
“I would still talk about that try four times a week. Whenever I meet someone new they bring that try up. Around Origin time they show it and are always talking about it. I’d certainly like a dollar for every time I’ve talked about it.
“I can’t speak on behalf of New South Wales and whether it has haunted them, but from a Queensland point of view I think that try highlighted our never give up attitude and that we are always going to try right until the end. It is one of the strong values for every Queenslander that pulls on the jersey.”
Coyne had played in the 1992 and 1993 grand finals for the Dragons against the Broncos and arrived in Origin camp in 1994 to a classic welcome from Langer and Walters, both the Dragons’ nemesis in club football.
The Ipswich duo were running around the training oval yahooing and looking in Coyne’s direction. Coyne asked them what they were up to and they replied in unison: “We are just showing you how to do a victory lap.”
Days later Coyne was doing a victory lap of his own at Sydney Football Stadium, and Langer and Walters were both by his side.
Coyne played seven minutes off the bench in the series opener. He went on and straight away Brad Mackay scored to give NSW a 12-4 lead. Minutes later Coyne threw the final pass for Willie Carne to score and make the final moments interesting. They were interesting all right. Incredible in fact.
From Meninga at dummy half, 60 metres out, the ball went to Langer and Walters and on to Carne who threw a loopy ball to a flying Steve Renouf who swooshed it back in-field to Michael Hancock who zigged and zagged his way into the middle of the park, and as he was pummelled found Darren Smith on his hip. Langer was there, who else, and then Meninga. The Queensland captain then gave it to Coyne who stepped beautifully inside to leave Brad Fittler and Rick Stuart on the carpet and place the ball down for the Maroons try of all tries.
Coach Wally Lewis hugged Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner and the celebrations started, but Coyne felt strangely detached from it all. In a sign of his humility, he didn’t feel like he was worthy.
“I was overawed by all the congratulations. Everyone wanted to pat me on the back, but I didn’t feel like I’d contributed. I left the party early that night and went home. I just didn’t feel comfortable with all the back slapping. I had my wife with me and I went to the function and stayed for half an hour,” Coyne recalled.
The Maroons did not win the series. It was NSW hooker Benny Elias, a villain north of the border, who ultimately went out as a winner in his final Origin game at Lang Park in Game III, not Meninga.
But for Queenslanders, when it comes to 1994, it is the miracle try of Game I that still resonates and inspires.
“I guess 1994 for me will always be about that try,” Coyne said.
“It was a great team movement and to get the final pass off one of the truly great Origin players in Mal Meninga was a really nice thing.”