State of the Game
On 8 July 1980, the great indigenous player Arthur Beetson led a Queensland State Of Origin team onto Lang Park in Brisbane. This was to be the beginning of an event destined to be inscribed on players and fans alike, focussing on the importance of where their rugby league playing origins began, in either New South Wales or in Queensland. It was the start of the spectacular tribal clash of mate against mate, and state against state.
For myself, having coached the NSWRL18’s for a decade, then involved with the wrecking ball of the Super League war, I saw Origin bring to the rugby league community a renewed feeling of ownership through this great event for all Australians.
My experience in PNG led me to fervently believe that the New South Wales and Queensland passion and rivalry for rugby league supremacy was largely created during World War 11 during the defence of Papua New Guinea. Many of the Australian Armed Forces in PNG were conscripts from country Queensland, and to a lesser extent also NSW, so it was inevitable that the very few moments of recreational time were taken challenging on the field of play rather than a war zone. All this falls in line with PNG’s great contribution to the international game of rugby league.
When Sen. McAuliffe and Kevin Humphries agreed on the eligibility requirements to become an Origin player, they created an event that upheld the original values and importance of the rugby league culture, true to the game’s origin in 1908. Outside of the states of Queensland and New South Wales there are those who may not support rugby league at NRL level, but they do ‘switch on’ to the State of Origin series.
The AFL Origin began in1977 between Victoria and Western Australia but due initially to the expansion of the West Coast Eagles and then all states it diminished the fans attraction, and the intense rivalry, which was between Western Australia against Victoria faded.
In 2020 the AFL event was Victoria as a state defeating the All Stars comprising of the players of the other AFL states
Looking to the USA sporting events as a point of comparison, the NFL will play a match the week before the Super Bowl in 2021. The NFL comprises of two Leagues equally, that of the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC) and they will face off representing their Conference. Because the players for Super Bowl are ineligible for selection the match up was previously played after the Super Bowl, but the Nielsen rating showed a drop in viewers. Whilst the original intention was to create a contest between the Best versus the Best, now it is not possible, as the Super Bowl players, will of course, not be considered for selection.
The ‘softening’ or redefining eligibility for our State of Origin could diminish the value and the integrity of our unique and hugely popular event. To change such a winning formula seems illogical.
State of Origin is a statement about the game with established parameters, the future however remains a question.