Brutal clash added fuel to Origin fire
STEVE Price's eyes were flickering amid the cold light of the concrete tunnel. He was breathing, but barely so.
From the left side of the Maroon's face swelled a torrent of blood. It began under his nose, carried through his ripped lip and into his gaping mouth.
This writer was in the players' race during the final minute of mayhem that elevated State of Origin game three in 2009 to perhaps the most dramatic match in the series' history.
Moments earlier, Price had been felled in a furious exchange of punches with Blues opposite Brett White.
As the blows rained down, NSW back-rower Trent Waterhouse came in over the top to help his teammate.
Waterhouse later said White had already delivered the knockout blow before he arrived with arms flailing. He was sent off, nevertheless - the first NSW player in Origin history to make the shameful march.
"I was just going in to break it up - there was definitely no malice in it,'' Waterhouse said.
"I think he was out before I went to tackle him away. The referee sent me off for being third man in.''
The sight of a prone Price being fitted with a neck brace and driven off the ground proved too much for the parochial Maroon mob to stomach.
If XXXX cans had still been served, the ground would have been an aluminium collector's paradise.
The fans threw water bottles instead as Maroons motormouth Justin Hodges baited White from a distance.
The carnage continued with the resultant penalty, Queensland launching a bomb that man-of-the-match Anthony Watmough later described as "an up-and-under for an all-in brawl". And it worked.
Michael Crocker chased Blues nemesis Michael Ennis around the park like a drover's dog and Maroon jerseys came from everywhere.
"I think it's lifted the hatred between the states another two levels,'' Blues winger Jarryd Hayne later said.
"But I love it. It's good for the game to have a rivalry like this.
"At the end, they just wanted to get one back on us. It didn't work."
Had NSW taken matters into their own hands, the bell would have been ringing in the 34th minute after Johnathan Thurston conceded an eight-point try for a boot in the face of try-scorer David Williams.
The entire Blues camp was seething about the incident and rightfully claimed the moral high ground because they didn't retaliate.
Watmough, who was brilliant for the Blues, said Queensland had premeditated the final stink.
"That final bomb was an up-and-under for an all-in brawl,'' he said. "It was old-fashioned Origin. That's footy - it got a bit heated but that's what people want to see.''
But Price didn't see any more of it. He was in the medical room, conscious and breathing.