How often in recent years, after a close State of Origin encounter, do we hear from the commentary teams that the game was “one of the greatest in State of Origin history” or a “classic of the genre?” Lots, it seems to me. I, for one, don’t buy it. I find the hyperbole annoying. I have seen plenty of close and exciting games in recent years but I have not seen a game that is genuinely great in yonks! By great, I mean exceptionally good football. Good defence. Good attack. Good strategy. Real “against all odds” determination. Tommy Raudonikis thinks he knows what the problem is. Not enough “mongrel”, would be his suggestion. But “mongrel” has nothing to do with it. What’s missing is the thrill of witnessing great sport when you don’t expect it!
More cliché than reality
State of Origin, it seems to me, to have become more hype than genuinely top-notch product. We often hear “it is the highest form of Rugby league Football”, “it is the dream of every young League player to represent their state” and “there is no greater Rugby League honour than to enter the cauldron of Lang Park.” Piffle. There used to be some truth to these clichés but it has not been true for many years. It’s a bit like how it used to be almost impossible to get dropped from the Australian cricket team once you were selected. State of Origin clichés have gone well beyond their use-by date.
State of Origin became a great thing, in my view, many years ago because it surprised us so much. It never occurred to a bunch of New South Welsh League supporters that a bunch of hillbillies with names like Wally, Alfie, Chris, Mal, Gino, Artie and Rod could beat the NSW teams that had so dominated interstate competition for decades. But beat us they did. Often! It had not occurred to parochial NSW supporters that players of Queensland origin could make up one of the greatest Rugby League Football teams that ever existed. Even today the thought of facing up to a back line that sported names like Lewis, Meninga, Miles and Close would scare the living crap out of any footballer.
The cynics got it so wrong
Cynics like Alan Clarkson (Sydney Morning Herald Journalist) and Bobby Fulton (one of the greatest NSW players of the seventies) who had initially opposed the State of Origin concept had had to eat their words. Fulton had even described the State of Origin concept in the early days as “the non-event of the century.” How wrong they were. State of Origin as a concept made lots of sense. Good sense or not it was the shock of the quality of the Queensland teams in the early days that not only made the games close, exciting and competitive but it became a marketing bonanza for the NRL and for the television stations that supported the games.
Thirty-five years down the track no one is surprised any more that Queensland can provide competitive Rugby League teams and while I will be howled down by Rugby league faithful for saying it, the product is not as good as it once was. While Cronk, Smith and Thurston are mercurial, recent Queensland and NSW teams have not been able to a product of “great” football in the way that past teams have.
Is great State of Origin a thing of the past?
Every year the commentators and the sports marketers will tell us how great State of Origin is (because they must) but deep in our hearts we know that it ain’t what it used to be. I’m not just being nostalgic here. I am being realistic. Great concepts sometimes grow old. No matter how hard you try to get excited it just doesn’t seem to work anymore. The experts and marketing people are just too many years behind us and their efforts to squeeze water out of a rock will not come too much.
I might be wrong. I hope I am. I would love to see a truly great game again. Happy State of Origin folks.