Queensland win State of Origin in front of record post-COVID crowd

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A crowd of 49,155 cheered Queensland to a 20-14 win over New South Wales in a State of Origin rugby league clash in Brisbane on Wednesday, a world record stadium attendance for a sporting event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crowd at the 52,000-seat Lang Park arena eclipsed the 46,061 that turned out last month at Auckland’s Eden Park for New Zealand’s 27-7 victory over Australia in the second rugby union test of the 2020 season.

Most of the fans went home happy after Queensland clinched their first series triumph since 2017 with a victory in the third and deciding match of the annual contest between Australia’s two dominant rugby league states.

Queensland authorities lifted a crowd cap of 75% of stadium capacity to 100% last week in time for the match, which the home side won on the back of a standout performance from five-eighth Cameron Munster.

“There’s no better footy ground than Lang Park, thank you Queensland!” Munster, who won the Wally Lewis medal as Player of the Series, said on the pitch.

“How good’s this crowd? This one’s for you guys.”

Tries from Valentine Holmes and debutants Edrick Lee and Harry Grant gave the Maroons enough of a cushion to hold off a late charge from the visitors when reduced to 12 men in a dramatic finish.

New South Wales, who were clear favourites to secure a hat-trick of successive titles, lost their best player, fullback James Tedesco, to a concussion in the first half and had to defend exceptionally well just to stay in the contest.

Australia has largely brought COVID-19 to heel, with northeastern Queensland state, of which Brisbane is the capital, having recorded no cases of community transmission for weeks.

Australia hosted 86,174 fans at the Women’s T20 World Cup final between the home side and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 8 before social distancing rules banned mass gatherings for several months.

Crowds have returned in Australia since a countrywide lockdown ended mid-year but caps remain in some states.

A fresh outbreak of COVID-19 in the southern city of Adelaide has put the country on high alert, with authorities in South Australia state ordering a six-day lockdown on Wednesday as a “circuit breaker”.

(The story has been refiled to remove quote marks in lead)

Reporting by Ian Ransom and Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christian Radnedge