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Gary Belcher on the attack in the 1987 Origin series

Queensland had lost four matches in a row after their defeat in Game One of the 1987 series and even the Supercoach was feeling the pressure.

As part of a series of first-person pieces by Origin greats, Gary Belcher reveals how the Maroons stopped the rot. This article originally appeared in Rugby League Week's Heroes of Origin magazine in 2012.

Gary Belcher: Wayne's world of pain

I’ve never had a more hollow feeling. It's funny how a moment of absolute devastation for one bloke can be one of total ecstasy for the next.

I'm sure that’s how Mark McGaw and the rest of the Blues were feeling after referee Mick Stone awarded that try in the dying minutes of the '87 opener – ecstatic.

Allan Langer in his Origin debut series in 1987.
Allan Langer in his Origin debut series in 1987. ©NRL Photos

At the time, we thought we were dudded. History - and countless replays - have shown Stone was correct but it still broke our hearts.

That made it four games in a row to the Blues after they swept us 3-0 in 1986 and Wayne Bennett got us in the rooms and read the riot act to us.

He made it clear that for several of us, our Origin careers were now on the line. And I knew he wasn't talking about the likes of Wally Lewis or Gene Miles, but was aiming his words at guys like a young G Belcher.

And I think Wayne knew his career was in danger too - if the Blues won this series then his Origin coaching days would have been pretty short.

Full Match Replay: Maroons v Blues - Game 3, 1987

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It rocked us but it clearly worked - we won the last two games to take the series in an epic time for Queensland rugby league.

That first game was a classic but for us it was heartache. The scores were locked at 16-all for a long period of the second half, I had a shot at goal to break the deadlock ... it wasn't even close, so I felt particularly bad.

Then the Blues made a break at the death, there was a mad scramble for the ball and ... well, you know the rest.

We came to Sydney with the weight of the world on our shoulders and faced the Blues on a mud heap at the SCG.

Allan Langer made his debut in game one. He was just an unknown kid from Ipswich who was ridiculed by plenty because of his size.

"Alf" held his own but by game two he had learned a lot and shared the honours with his Blues opposite Peter Sterling.

We scored three tries to one, with our forwards sensational. "Fatty" Vautin was never the fittest bloke in the world but he made around 50 tackles - he never stopped.

Wally Lewis sprays Paul Vautin's face after the 1987 Origin II win in Sydney.
Wally Lewis sprays Paul Vautin's face after the 1987 Origin II win in Sydney. ©NRL Photos

Greg Dowling was superb up front and scored a crucial try - he was a real big-game player.

All three games were tight and the decider was particularly tense. Back at Lang Park we edged them out 10-8, with Alfie making the critics eat their words with a man-of-the-match performance.

The Blues pounded our line for long periods of the second half, but our defence was sensational and the line just refused to buckle, A few times they got half a chance but our cover defence was desperate and held them out.

Martin Bella and Wally Lewis chair Wayne Bennett off Lang Park after Origin III in 1987.
Martin Bella and Wally Lewis chair Wayne Bennett off Lang Park after Origin III in 1987. ©NRL Photos

Looking back, we felt this game turned the tide for us for the years to come. The Blues were too good the previous year but from here, we started a golden run to dominate the next few series. It was a definite turning point in Origin history.

There was an interesting postscript to the series when the two teams went to California for a fourth game.

To us it was a trip away and a bit of a laugh - to the Blues it was a chance for payback and an opportunity to level the series.

We enjoyed ourselves over there - little Alfie entered a body-building competition one night and finished second.

We went to Las Vegas and partied.

It was great. But when it came to the game, the Blues were definitely more interested than us.

Sterling battles the banner in LA

It was played at Long Beach before 12,000 curious fans and I remember as we came off at half-time, Wally Lewis couldn't believe how seriously the Blues were taking it.

"These blokes are being fair dinkum," he said to me. "Isn't it just an exhibition game?"

The Blues ended up winning 30-18 but to us the series will always go down as a 2-1 win to the good guys ... although they might have different ideas south of the border.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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