If you were in any doubt about sport as the new religion, the fervour for which is deeply felt and passionately expressed, all you needed to do was involve yourself in the divine State of Origin match last night. You couldn’t help but feel it – even from your lounge room.
It was like the Catholic mass.
The music has moved away from the bland, sentimental, key-changing inspirers to the orchestra and its nod to classical numbers in the style which was mandatory when God was entrenched in the Heavens and the masters composed ad maiorem Dei gloriam.
The colour. Liturgical maroon and liturgical blue, worn as vestments over the clothes of the everyday. Special Origin garb, of spiritual importance, signifying (without any shame and with no hint of irony) a genuine feeling of allegiance and commitment.
And the smells: the chip and dim sim trucks, spilled beer, and augmented by gunpowder, for what are fireworks but the priestly swing of the (ginormous) incensory.
The ritual completed, the sides went at it, Queensland heavy favourites, although the bookies had kept their price long enough to prise open the wallet.
The locals started well, Darius Boyd scoring the first try, before the Blues settled and took control. The champions’ cause was not helped by Cooper Cronk’s broken arm, although they had the talented Daley Cherry-Evans to take his place. The pressure was on the young man and he took a risk-free approach while he settled in – if you can ever settle in at this level.
New South fought back. Jarryd Hayne looked like he could be the difference with explosive acceleration, slippery evasion, and bursting pace. After Brett Morris scored (and popped his shoulder, which proved to be a mere sub-flesh wound) Hayne wriggled over and the Maroons were genuinely rattled.
The feeling at half-time was that Queensland would struggle to get back into the game, and so it was in the early minutes of the second half.
But then the whole spirit of Origin descended on old Lang Park and the crowd could tell. They were part of it; contributed to it. It was like Cam Smith turned to his pack and said, “Now!”
It wreaked of desperation: a ten-minute roll of the dice before succumbing. The aggression in the defence turned the minds of all. There were three and four in driving tackles which rattled the Blues. Then Boyd scored again. 12-8 to the Blues.
Surely the Queenslanders would tire. How could they continue to find the reserves to maintain the intensity? But, this is Origin, this is the cathedral, and the calling is the highest. They found and continued to find, with the forwards pounding up field to be met with holding defence; Thurston and Cherry-Evans probing, running at the line, throwing cut-out passes to second-man plays, being as creative as Scott and Myles were being brutish.
They just kept at it, controlling the ball. Te’o, relatively fresh (for a few moments at least) had made a difference, and was making a difference, the Blues were about to crack.
But the boys from south of the Tweed were phenomenal. Morris held Boyd up, by some miracle of biomechanics, broad shoulders and fat tummies. The forwards absorbed the thrusts, the backs defended with intelligence and initiative.
Still Queensland came. Surely it was a matter of time. It got down to the last minute – Queensland had a set at them. But they had to pause for time-off. (Was it a penalty?) For minutes Loz Daley and crew had been pacing the coaches’ box drawn into the contest with a deeply satisfying un-professionalism. This was raw emotion. And tension will change us all.
The Maroons went left and some of the greatest attackers of all time – Thurston, Slater, Inglis – could not find the way through. The Blues defence drifted beautifully with the play and I reckon 11 of the 13 were stacks-on-the defeated Queenslander who happened to finish with the ball. (Slater?)
They were all shaking hands as Melbourne Channel 9 ended the coverage to go to The Footy Show. I assume Jarryd Hayne was man-of-the-match. There was one moment in the second half when, with his boys about to hit the canvas, Hayne took off like the prairie’s fastest buffalo and bought them a few minutes of reprieve. It was that sort of match.
Slow to get going, this Origin match became (another) classic. Transcendent. Befitting a mass scheduled for 8.20 on a Wednesday night.
Afterwards, Cam Smith should have stood at the gate to greet every single patron as they left.