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Entering the cauldron 12 minutes from full-time in Game One of the 1994 Origin series after Julian O’Neill had hobbled off, Mark Coyne barely had time to catch his breath before the Blues scored to take what appeared an unassailable 12-4 lead.

In a tense and brutal battle that had produced just three tries in 70 minutes, Laurie Daley's Blues seemed certain to take a 1-0 series lead to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for Game Two.

Posted in the unfamiliar position of right winger, Coyne gathered his thoughts and got down to the business of helping the Maroons mount a trademark comeback.

His first act was to throw the final pass for Willie Carne to score the try that breathed new life into Queensland with four minutes to play.

Three minutes. Two minutes. One minute.

As time ticked away and the Maroons found themselves deep in their own territory, it was now or never. The ultimate ‘Hail Mary’ play was about to be launched.

Playing the ball to skipper Mal Meninga on his own 40-metre line, Coyne could never have imagined that the next 25 seconds would change his life forever.

As Coyne told, one of the reasons the Maroons' long-range try has become so legendary is the call by the great Ray Warren on Channel Nine...

Queensland a long, long way to go to either snatch victory or snatch a draw. Coyne is tackled, trailing 12-10, Langer pushing it wide, Walters onward, Carne joins in, floats the pass for Renouf, down touchline, beats one, gets it infield, Hancock gets it on, Queensland are coming back, Darren Smith for Langer, Langer gets it away, here’s the big fella, gets the pass on, Coyne, Coyne, goes for the corner and gets the try. Queensland it’s a miracle performance. That’s not a try, that’s a miracle!

As his teammates mobbed him and the Maroons bench erupted, Coyne was strangely subdued for a man who had just played the greatest 12-minute cameo in State of Origin history.

He had just guaranteed himself a lifetime of free XXXX and a chorus of ‘you bloody legend’ every time he strolled down Caxton St, but Coyne was suffering from an inexplicable case of 'impostor syndrome'.

“I didn’t feel like I contributed a lot but then everyone wanted a piece of me at the end, so I felt a little bit off about it all,” Coyne said.

“When you don't play a whole game you don't feel like you've done a lot, so I actually came off the field and was a bit detached from the excitement of the win and overawed by all the congratulations.

Origin Classic: Game I, 1994

“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.

“I actually got breath-tested on the way home - I'd had one beer, so I was lucky I didn't celebrate too hard!”

Not surprisingly, Coyne’s fellow miracle workers are more effusive about his role in the unlikely triumph.

“Coyney is humble about it all – we spent many nights on the pine together watching Origin from the sideline waiting to get on so I understand his feelings but he came on for a really important 12 minutes,” said Kevin Walters, who played 20 Origins for Queensland between 1989-99.

Willie Carne's 1994 State of Origin Game I try

“A try and a try assist in any game is very special but when you can do it in 12 minutes you are getting to the elite level.

“You are never beaten at that level because you have so many good players who can create opportunities.

“It was a great passing movement from a lot of people, all in sync, the timing was impeccable.

“Every time Alf [Langer] and I see Coyney, we talk about that game and that moment. His effort to score that try was pretty heroic, to know where the tryline was in all of the mayhem.

Origin Moments - Go Mal

"To put so many passes together and still defy NSW from stopping it, it was a miracle... beautiful to watch if you’re a Queenslander!

“I followed the ball all the way across and all the way back and I think I was the first one on the scene when he scored and it really was a surreal feeling from where we were in the game five minutes earlier.

“I kept tracking, I’m there in support, I’m always in the shot. I’m the professional celebrator!”

When it came to lapping up the moment, few did it better than Maroons coach and rugby league Immortal Wally Lewis, who was in his second series at the helm after calling time on his storied Origin career three years earlier.

As Coyne plunged over and referee Bill Harrigan pointed to the spot, ‘The King’ launched himself at team manager Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner before Gary Larson, Steve Walters and Andrew Gee joined in.

“They weren’t just passing the football they were handing on the pressure of making a decision… not just for themselves or their teammates or for the supporters – but for the definite outcome of the game,” Lewis recalled in ’40 Years of Origin’.

“One bad pass would have been disastrous because it would have taken away a moment that has been one of the best advertising tools in State of Origin history.

“Origin is full of desperation to succeed and that try showed the lengths Queensland was prepared to go to in pursuit of victory despite being in the most dire circumstances.”

Just as they had done five years earlier at the same venue when injuries to Langer, Meninga, Paul Vautin, Michael Hancock and Bob Lindner saw them finish the game with 12 men but still emerge victorious 16-12, the Maroons found a way.

Just as they would do 12 years later in Melbourne when they came back from 14-4 down with 10 minutes to play to snatch victory and launch a dynasty, the Maroons found a way.

Having been part of countless great escapes as a player or coach for Queensland, Meninga speaks in awe of the resilience that has become a Maroons trademark across 44 years of Origin battles.

“The Queensland spirit was there from day one back in 1980, led by Artie Beetson and all those guys who were back in our side [after playing for NSW] and that stoked the belief that we could compete at that level.

“The belief in each other started way back then and as a result those sorts of tries happen.

“Locky started the dynasty in 2006 with that try in Melbourne and it’s one he really cherishes. That try was the catalyst for that great era.

“Some special passes and timely passes were the key to it all [for Coyne’s try]. Putting players into space was the key to it all

“Like you always do in a game of footy you should be moving forward and have good awareness where the ball is and be in a position to receive the ball if it comes back to you.

“To do what the team did in that moment in a big game it deserved Ray Warren’s best and he gave it his best.”

Back to you, Mr Warren...

“That’s not a try, that’s a miracle. Queensland are in front now, 14 to 12. And Mal Meninga takes the attempted conversion, look at this, it’s a beauty. Queensland 16 to 12. And King Wally goes down to meet his warriors and look at the face on Mal Meninga, the highest pointscorer in State of Origin. He was there in Game One in 1980 and he’s led the Maroons to a miracle victory here. They’ve come from 12-10 down with a minute to go and they’ve won 16 to 12.”

While Meninga and Langer handled twice in the sweeping movement, the work of Willie Carne, Steve Renouf, Mick Hancock and Darren Smith kept the dream alive, each coming up with a perfect pass and superb support play.

A mainstay of Queensland sides between 1990-96, Broncos centre Carne was third in the chain, taking the ball off Walters and lofting a pass over Paul McGregor to create space for Renouf, who glided across the turf for 15 metres, evading David Barnhill and getting a pass inside to Hancock.

Maroons skipper Mal Meninga savours a special victory with legendary team manager Dick 'Tosser' Turner.
Maroons skipper Mal Meninga savours a special victory with legendary team manager Dick 'Tosser' Turner.

The powerhouse winger was hit in a classic front-on tackle by Blues fullback Andrew Ettingshausen and was driven backwards, but managed to get the ball away to Darren Smith, who was supporting through the middle of the field.

“When I got rid of the ball to Smithy it looked like it had gone forward because I’d been driven backwards,” Hancock told Rugby League Week in 2005.

“When he got tackled we were sitting on the ground thinking ‘Oh no, it’s not going to happen’, and then Mal got the ball and we thought he’d score – we were just sitting on the ground trying to will it over.

“Steve Renouf was on our 40-metre line. I was about halfway, Smithy was on their 40 in front of us – we all just jumped up like we’d just got out of bed and raced over 50 metres to join the celebrations.

“It was the last play of the game, we were sitting on the ground waiting for the hooter to go, we were all so buggered. Then the moment Coyney scored it was unbelievable – we had that much enthusiasm it felt like the start of the game.

“We could see Wally’s face on the big screen and see how excited he was!

“It was a great dressing room, there are some great memories and that’s what the game is all about – forget money and all that, it’s about your mates.”

Many of those mates will come together again in June at a Carbine Club lunch in Brisbane to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the miracle try, with Coyne, Lewis and Billy Moore the special guests.

Match Highlights: Blues v Maroons

Now 56 and enjoying a successful career in the insurance industry, Coyne is much more comfortable in the spotlight than he was on that memorable night at the SFS.

“I didn’t have a lot of skills but I had a really good right-foot step and I was lucky the cover defence was flying over and then I could put my step on and it was hard for them to pull me in,” he said modestly.

“I have spoken to Freddy [Fittler] since and he said if he had his time again he would have taken my head off. I might have got a penalty try!

“Every year when Origin comes around, people always remember me for that try.

“People still stop me and they either love me or hate me depending on who they support.

“Over time you embrace it more and I have no trouble embracing it now – it’s good fun!”

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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