A senior Australian Rugby league official recently leaked to Socrates that the ARL are looking at experimenting with the State of Origin team selections for future interstate matches. While not being totally dissatisfied with current arrangements the official argued that it was experimenting with selection rules that turned interstate Rugby League fixtures into the success that it is today, and decision makers should not rest on their laurels by not considering possible future selection possibilities.
“State of Origin is not half as interesting as it was twenty, thirty and forty years ago?” explained the unnamed official.
“Yeah. Yeah. I know. Every time there is a close game, no matter how many dropped balls, bombed tries and missed tackles there are in a game, Fatty, Sterlo, Joey, Phil, or Gal (and other commentators who have skin in the game) let us know that ‘this is fair dinkum State of Origin stuff… the real deal… one of the best games ever!’ It’s not. These days it is still interesting-ish, but recent ‘Origin’ matches have not had either the fizz or the high quality of yesteryear. Some of the players still consider it their dream gig to be selected to represent their state in ‘the cauldron’ but many… being slaves to the hype… just fake their passion. The days of some players caring more about playing for their state than for their country are on the wane, I suspect”, he added.
“When a series is still alive, the television broadcast still rates pretty well on the box. Yup. I still watch it, too. But the gloss is fading, for me. I suspect it might be for others too despite the shrill advertising slogans, of ‘brother versus brother, mate versus mate, cockroach versus cane toad and the greatest rivalry of all’, that we come up with.”
The official then went on to explain the background to the current thinking.
Grubby germ-infected locals
“Queenslanders, of course, will always care. That’s hardly surprising. During the Covid 19 crisis, the Queensland government, for quite some time, mindful of the votes to be gained, gleefully prevented any potentially infected cockroaches (people from NSW) from crossing the border into their state despite allowing Queenslanders to cross into NSW to enjoy a weekend in the inferior state, mix with the grubby germ-infected locals, then return without any punitive measures (such as enforced isolation) being enacted against them. That’s just the way it is. Kicking southerners wins votes in the sunshine state. State of origin matches, no matter how poor in quality, will continue to really matter to the Maroon-wearing public, for decades to come. The folks south of the border, however, (rugby league crazies and people like Tommy Raudonikas excepted), don’t really give a rat’s arse anymore,” he said.
The State of Origin concept began way back in 1980 and 1981 when Australian rugby league administrators, concerned with the flagging interest and lack of competitiveness of traditional NSW versus Queensland games began experimenting with selection rules. In game three of both interstate series (‘80 and ‘81) selections were based on where a player played their first senior game of football rather than for the state where they played their club football thus enabling some of the games best players (e.g. Arthur Beetson) to return home to play for their state of origin. Many pundits were unimpressed with the concept and believed it would make no difference to the lop-sided matches that were nearly always won by NSW. One of Australia’s greatest ever players, Bobby Fulton, even had the affrontery to state that the first experimental match was “the non-event of the century.” How wrong Bobby was. The early State of Origin Queenslanders proved what wiser heads knew all along. Queensland, bolstered by players who earned a living playing in the Sydney competition (and who cared a lot about the crap that New South Welsh supporters talked about Queensland and Queenslanders), were more than competitive. In games one and two of both interstate series NSW continued their tradition of beating the Maroons, but in the designated State of Origin third games, the Queenslanders took revenge and smashed their southern mates much to the horror of the NSW supporters and much to the glee of their Queensland brethren. The state of origin concept became so popular (because Queenslanders wanted the chance to continue sticking it up the Blues, and the Blues wanted the chance to take some revenge for their recent humiliations) that by 1982 it was agreed that all future games played between the States should be played under the new selection rules.
“We can’t close our eyes to the fact that experimentation with selection rules has always been core to the success of interstate Rugby League fixtures so, now that things are getting a bit dull, we are looking to implement a bit more of that,” disclosed the ARL senior administrator.
Queensland were particularly fortunate in that the early days of the State of Origin concept coincided with the emergence of some of Australia’s greatest ever rugby league footballers (Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Gene Miles, Chris Close, Allan Langer, Trevor Gillmeister etc) enabling them to win the first three series in succession. It wasn’t until 1995 that NSW managed to win their first. The shock and horror felt by the New South Welsh rugby league supporters and competition administrators (that Queenslanders were better footballers than they were) and the joy that this gave to the Maroon-wearing public ensured that State of Origin football became the biggest sporting event on the sporting calendar north of the Murray river every year for decades.
“Like I said, Queenslanders still care. A lot. But nobody else does any more. Its just a game of bloody footy, after all. And most of us are not really like Tommy Raudonikas. So what if Queensland wins, most of us Sydney people think. We’ve got better things to worry about. Up there in Brisbane… and maybe even down there in Melbourne (where all one has is beer, pies, and an AFL tribe) it may be critical to play dress ups and scream yourself hoarse on a weekend but in Sydney, it just isn’t a big enough deal anymore. Gal and Joey might pretend to care (in the way that Fatty does) … but I bet that deep down they don’t really. Joey would rather be surfing… and he would be surfing too, if commentating didn’t pay the bills.”
Origin needs a shot in the arm
“The Origin concept needs a shot in the arm,” claimed the official. “Maybe not to save it. Its still doing okay and may not need saving exactly but it is getting stale. It needs some new ideas to give it the sparkle that it had way back in the day. This is what we have in mind.”
“Selectors will be done away with. The public will choose the teams. Queensland and New South Welsh supporters will vote for the players who will represent their states. All the huffing and puffing in the press about who the selectors should choose is so boring. Under the new rules that will be gone! A thing of the past! What would the selectors and the bloody sports pundits know, anyway? We will take it out of their hands! I don’t care how we do it. That’s yet to be sorted out. Maybe email voting, regular mail, SMS, coupon, phone call… whatever. The public will have one vote each, where they choose thirteen starters (for thirteen vacant player positions) and six subs of any position specialty for their team’s rotation. The players with the most votes win the reserve sports. Whatever the public comes up with the team has to deal with (no matter how absurd the selections might seem). If the voting causes six half backs to be selected for the reserve bench for a team, so be it.”
“Also… there will be no coaches and no long-winded camps. State of Origin coaching isn’t really coaching anyway. Freddy and Wayne can work in the chiko roll concessions if they want. Once the teams are chosen by public ballot the selected players will vote and select a captain/coach from their own ranks. The captain/coach will gather his players for a single day before each match and together the captain and his team can work out the strategies and rotations… and practice as little or as much as they like on that meeting day. Each team will also have the right to select a bench rotation assistant (assistant coach) who would help the team implement their rotation strategies from the sideline, but this individual would have no authority (in terms of strategy/tactics) over the captain and his team.”
“This is my favourite bit. This is the thing that I reckon will really get the public excited! The community will also choose a panel of twenty “wildcard” players who will be chosen from a long list of public figures who would nominate themselves (or be nominated by a mate or an enemy) as someone who would like to have a run. These potential “wildcards” could be politicians, dancers, prominent businesspeople, artists, musicians, actors, athletes, television personalities, judges, opera singers and the likes. Who wouldn’t love to see Scott Morrison taking a hit up against Coen Hess? Each team will get to choose the other team’s two “wildcard” players from the panel that the public selects. Both “wildcard” players for both teams would be required to play a minimum of five minutes in the game, at an appropriate time decided by their captain. In that five minutes the “wildcards” would have to touch the ball at least once.”
“There will be three games played on each State of Origin day. First game would be an Under 23 State of Origin match with the teams selected by all of the NRL coaches and assistant coaches. The main curtain-raiser will be a State of Origin women’s match. In between games and during half time breaks there will be a series of pro rugby league player championship events featuring nominated players. We haven’t finalized the details yet but the types of events we are looking at might include fastest player, best tackler, best kicker, most agile player, player with best endurance and strongest player contests.”
“The rugby league community will not only select the teams, but they will also choose the award recipients, too. From the final whistle of the main game, voting will be opened for the public to choose the State of Origin best defensive player, best attacking player, best team player and overall MVP. After half an hour of tallying the public’s electronic votes the awards will be presented to the successful players. The votes will also be used to determine a thirteen player “All Star” team for the match. We are kinda thinking that maybe the “All Star” selections should be given a match fee bonus while the non-selections might be given nothing.”
Referees done away with
“Our initial thinking was that, for State of Origin, referees should be done away with completely… and that the players should just be left to sort matters out for themselves. I think that this approach has some merit but the ARL leadership thought that perhaps it would be better if the selected players were given the opportunity to choose a referee from the list of “wildcards.” The selected referee could either spend some time studying the rules prior to the game… or not. It’s up to them. It doesn’t really matter. In fact, it might even be more interesting if they didn’t have much idea about what was going on and they made stuff up as they went along. The bottom line is that whether they were right or wrong in their rulings, the referee would be instructed to take no lip from the players and that any cheek or unnecessarily crude objections from players would be harshly dealt with. The ref would not be miked up. There would be no video referee. There would be no touch judges. Television and radio commentators who chose to discuss any aspect of the referee’s performance or discussed any of his or her decisions while broadcasting would forfeit all of their pay for the day plus incur a $100, 000 fine. That would shut the buggers up from their perpetual whinging on matters that are none of their business… and that they know bugger all about.”
When Socrates asked the unnamed official if the Australian Rugby League or the NRL had done any public opinion research or consulting with players in relation to the proposed changes he explained that they had covered those bases in the best way possible.
“We put our ideas to Bobby Fulton, and he was adamant that they were all completely shit. He also told us that we were a bunch of dickheads, so we are reasonably confident that we are on a winner here.”