It’s that time of year again, State of Origin.
It’s the highlight of the NRL season and is so big it can get away with decimating the NRL season for six weeks, with Origin-heavy club teams left vulnerable to potentially season-ending losses.
Last year, North Qld travelled to Canberra in mid-July, two days before Origin III. What should have been a cracking contest between two top four teams turned into an easy win for Canberra. Missing their Origin stars, the Cowboys struggled against a near full-strength Raiders
The Brisbane Broncos, blessed with a big (mostly) Queensland Origin contingent since 1988, have learnt to walk the Origin tightrope, though struggle in the post-Origin period as players reacclimatise to club football.
Origin is more than just a game, its a vital part of the NRL season. Channel Nine hype the bejeesus out of it and take full advantage with lengthy (some would say self-indulgent) analysis and Phil “Gus” Gould’s now legendary pre-game speech.
Other rep football has been cut to accommodate Origin; from 2018, the May representative round will be moved to the Origin period, the Pacific Tests to be played before a Sunday night Origin in Melbourne.
While Origin has been extremely one-sided since 2006 (Queensland has won nine of the last 10 series’), it hasn’t turned fans off. If anything, it’s made Queenslanders more passionate, revelling in regularly smashing NSW by packing Suncorp Stadium (or Lang Park for traditionalists) every game. While Sydney fans are criticised for lacking passion, the Homebush games usually attract 80,000. Melbourne have embraced Origin too, with over 91,000 fans at the MCG for game II 2015.
Origin has a way of rejuvinating itself. In 2006, NSW had won three straight series and were one sloppy Brett Hodgson pass from four straight. Darren Lockyer pounced, Queensland won and the streak began.
Then there was the incredible 1995 series. Destroyed by Super League, a weakened Queensland were expected to be belted by NSW. We all know what happened next: coach Paul “Fatty” Vautin somehow led Queensland to a 3-0 series sweep against a powerful NSW.
Origin was born from necessity in the late seventies. Sick of watching NSW dominate the interstate series (Queenslanders were lured by rich Sydney clubs and had to play for NSW), the QRL suggested a one-off Origin game in 1980 at Lang Park, replacing the dead rubber third interstate game. Queensland won 20-10 and that was it.
As for this year’s series, Queensland will be favoured to win, especially with Johnathan Thurston expected to play. It will be JT’s final Origin series, so Queensland will be desperate for a proper farewell (like Wally Lewis in 1991). NSW are still rebuilding under Laurie Daley, so they could be competitive or awful.