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Wayne Bennett and Allan Langer after Game III of the 2001 series.

In the first of a new series looking back at four decades of State of Origin football, revisits the 2001 series which saw Queensland blood 10 debutants in Game One and then send an SOS to a 34-year-old plying his trade in England to guide them home in the decider.

Coming off a soul-destroying 3-0 loss a year earlier, in which they were outscored 104 to 42 across the three games, Queensland turned to the master coach Wayne Bennett in '01 and pinned their faith in a bunch of Origin rookies headlined by Petero Civoniceva, Lote Tuqiri, Carl Webb and Chris Walker.

The Blues, meanwhile, were riding high on the back of a record breaking 56-16 in Game Three, 2000, and had Origin icon Brad Fittler calling the shots as they looked to repeat the dose.

Full Match Replay: Maroons v Blues - Game 1, 2001

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Game One, Maroons 34 bt Blues 16 at Suncorp Stadium

The last game at the old Suncorp Stadium before it was redeveloped proved to be an emotional night for the huge crowd and the 10 Origin rookies thrown a jumper by Wayne Bennett as Queensland looked to right the wrongs of 2000.

New boys John Buttigieg, Chris Walker and Carl Webb helped themselves to tries on debut, with Webb's barnstorming charge one of the highlights of the night.

A relative veteran with seven Origins already to his name, Darren Lockyer also grabbed a try from fullback, as did experienced centre Darren Smith.

The Raging Bull, Gorden Tallis, produced a captain's knock to collect man of the match honours but sadly a career-threatening neck injury suffered two weeks later playing for Brisbane against the Northern Eagles ended his season.

Game Two, Blues 26 bt Maroons 8 at Stadium Australia

The Blues bounced back big time in front of 70,249 fans in Sydney, putting the steel back in their defence to restrict Queensland to a single try.

It was the fourth Origin match played at the Olympic stadium and NSW continued their dominance at the venue courtesy of a dominant second half and two tries from skipper Brad Fittler.

At half-time the Blues held a slender 6-2 lead but with man of the match Trent Barrett on fire at halfback and Jason Stevens and Mark O'Meley leading the way up front, the home side powered away to set up a decider in Brisbane.

The highlight of the night was debutant O'Meley busting through Maroons enforcer Shane Webcke's tackle and sending a perfectly-timed pass for Fittler to race away and score and put the result beyond doubt.

93. Allan Langer - Hall of Fame

Game Three, Maroons 40 bt Blues 14 at ANZ Stadium, Brisbane

From the moment Wayne Bennett rang his little mate Allan Langer in the UK and asked him if he'd be up for an Origin comeback, the dye was cast maroon.

Langer rolled into camp like he'd never been away, the youngsters hung off his every word and the senior players revelled in the return of a great mate and a great player.

After an early try to Blues centre Ryan Girdler, the Maroons took charge, racing to a 28-8 lead by half-time, and all that remained was for Langer to grab a try to cap his comeback.

And so it was in the 54th minute that Alf went to the line, ducked under Michael Vella's tackle and twisted his way over, laying flat on his back as he planted the ball down behind his head. Cue the celebrations.

Play of the series

The pivotal moment of the 2001 series came away from the field, when Wayne Bennett made the big call to give Alf a call ... resurrecting the career of one of Queensland's most loved and most revered players.

"Wayne kept it pretty quiet," recalled Darren Lockyer on Wide World of Sports. "I was captain and he told me the night before he announced the team that he was going to bring Alf back and I just went 'Wow'.

"It's one of those things that has gone down in Origin folklore. To come from Super League and play the way he did was amazing."

Maroons fullback Darren Lockyer in 2001.
Maroons fullback Darren Lockyer in 2001. ©NRL Photos

Best player

Darren Lockyer was sensational in the No.1 jersey for the Maroons, posing a constant threat in attack and leading the game in style after captain Gorden Tallis was injured in Game One.

In the wake of the series opener, in which the Maroons saved face after the humiliation of 2000, coach Wayne Bennett likened Lockyer's performance to that of Wally 'The King' Lewis in his prime.

Lewis had been called into camp before Game One by Bennett to address a youthful Maroons outfit packed with 10 debutants, and his emotional message clearly had the desired effect.

"I spoke about the pride of the Queensland jersey and the disrespect south of the border," Lewis told Rugby League Week in 2009. "You know, before Origin, they didn't even bother playing the games at the SCG. They knew there weren't enough people bothering to go and see Queensland. I tried to say that should never, ever happen again."

Inspired by The King and driven by the desire to make amends for the 3-0 loss in 2000, Lockyer produced a magnificent series, scoring three tries, kicking 11 goals and showing the silky skills that would serve him so well for the next decade at the elite level.

The quote

"For us young blokes it was an amazing feeling knowing that a Queensland icon had come back from the UK and was going to put that jersey on one last time," Petero Civoniceva recalls Alfie's comeback in '40 Years of State of Origin'. "As a group we had idolised him as kids growing up and now we were going to get the chance to play alongside him."

Unsung hero

John Doyle had 49 games of first grade under his belt at North Queensland when he got the call-up to the Maroons interchange bench to make his Origin debut in Game One.

The workhorse from Rockhampton relished the opportunity to rub shoulders with Maroons royalty like Darren Lockyer, Gorden Tallis and Shane Webcke and he let no one down in the two matches he played.

In Game One, all four of Queensland's bench players – Doyle, Chris Walker, Chris Beattie and Carl Webb – were making their debut but far from being overawed they played key roles in a big win.

Such was Doyle's versatility he could slot in at hooker, five-eighth or halfback and he left nothing in the tank as he grabbed his shot at the big time with both hands.

The following year

A rare drawn series in 2002 after NSW won the opener easily, Queensland hit back at home, and the decider in Sydney ended in an 18-18 draw courtesy of a late try to Dane Carlaw.

With golden point still a year away, there was no way of settling the issue in the third game so the Maroons were declared series winners by virtue of being the defending champions.

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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