Hindsight…how does this affect how you watch a replay of a sporting fixture?


My new book State of Origin 40 Years, which has been publicised elsewhere on this site, has been an interesting undertaking for me in more ways than one. It was not merely an addendum to the first two editions of the book (State of Origin 30 Years, and State of Origin 35 Years). For the third edition, I took the opportunity to give the manuscript a significant overhaul. I know I’m a better writer now than I was in the 2000s, and I was keen to upgrade the original product. To achieve this, I watched a DVD of every Origin fixture in chronological order. Years ago I also watched a replay of each match from 1980 to 2014, but not in chronological order. I might have watched a game from 2001 one day, then a game from 1987 the next, then a game from 1984, then a game from 1998 etc.


I’ve been an avid reader of rugby league and cricket books since I was in primary school in the early 1990s. In particular, I was strongly influenced by Bret Harris’s 1992 publication Winfield State of Origin: 1980-1991. As I was keen on reading and writing, I hoped that one day I could be a published author. The key thing was to develop my own style and not merely rehash what others had done.


When painstakingly watching and reviewing every Origin match from 1980 to 2019 over the past couple of years, I found it intriguing to see how one’s perceptions could change throughout the course of time. One thing that always fascinates me about Origin football is how tiny the margin is between success and failure, no matter what the scoreboard says. This was a particular theme that I chose to illuminate throughout the book, because I felt it hadn’t been done before. But something else that occurred to me very strongly is that reviewing a match – with the benefit of hindsight – is vastly different from watching live coverage of a sporting fixture.


I should explain that I previously worked as a sports journalist for a number of non-daily rural newspapers, in towns including Kingaroy, Tumut, Gundagai and Gunnedah. During football and cricket season, I regularly wrote match previews and match reports. But I must emphasise that I provided coverage of country sport rather than professional sport, meaning the pressure, scrutiny, demands and competition were not as intense in my field compared to the NRL or Cricket Australia. In country sport, there wasn’t anything at stake compared with professional sport. The same could be said about the newspapers I worked for, as country and rural publications were unlike outlets such as Fox Sports (or any TV network), the Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, Canberra Times, Courier-Mail or Herald Sun.


I’ve come to realise that when reporting a match in the immediate aftermath, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and the emotion and the reactions of players and supporters, in which case these things could influence my coverage. This brings me to the main point of this discussion: when watching a live sporting fixture, there’s bound to be an emotional connection (particularly when you’re supporting one team). I think this sometimes slants (and even distorts) the media coverage. When match reports and newspaper articles are written for outlets with regular deadlines, it’s always done either when the match is occurring or immediately in the aftermath. When that happens, the emotion is raw and so is the reaction from players, coaches and fans (especially when there’s something controversial). I think this affects the media coverage, and not necessarily in a good way. Journalists, players, fans and coaches alike seem to be selective in what they focus on, rather than give a balanced view that involves analysing the entire match.


On the other hand, when I watch DVD replays of matches long after they took place (e.g. if I watch a match from the 1980s), I feel more distanced from it, and can ‘sit on the fence’ a bit better. I think that this enables me to provide more objective, balanced and impartial reporting, without getting too caught up in the drama and emotion of it all because the “dust has settled”, so to speak. It’s rather apparent that I often perceive a match differently in retrospect, compared with when I watch it live.


Therefore with my latest book State of Origin 40 Years, I think I’ve been able to provide a fresher and more impartial view of things, now that a considerable amount of time has passed since most of the matches took place. And that is the case, regardless of which team I support.


For example, Greg McCallum’s decision to penalise Allan Langer for stealing the ball in Game 2 of 1990 was heavily scrutinised. Queenslanders had steam coming out of their ears! But watching it 30 years later, I noticed that the Maroons actually received 7 successive penalties beforehand and made a lot of errors throughout the 80 minutes. Those things weren’t the referee’s fault, so it really isn’t fair to say that the result hinged on one decision. It’s much easier to realise that in hindsight, rather than when the match is happening at the time.


Another thing to point out is that referees are human. They make mistakes. Sometimes they may seem incompetent. But they do NOT cheat. Yet their errors seem to come under the microscope a lot more than players’ errors. Is it really fair to think that players are entitled to make mistakes because they’re playing, while referees shouldn’t make mistakes because they’re adjudicating? It’s a tough one. I understand feeling hard done by when a decision doesn’t go the way you think it should. But isn’t it really up to the players to decide the result? To me, the best teams are those that are able to overcome any sort of adversity and still win anyway. When Queensland won all bar one Origin series from 2006 to 2017, sometimes the rub of the green would go their way, and sometimes it wouldn’t. But either way, the Maroons were good enough to get the job done more often than not. The same could have been said about St George during its 11-year premiership reign in the 1950s and 1960s.


Another example of seeing something differently in hindsight (compared to when watching it live) pertains to Origin 2 of 1993. Queensland needed a last-minute try to keep the series alive. Mal Meninga made a break and then took the conservative option of slowing down and seeking support as opponent Laurie Daley pursued him from the side. A fumble soon occurred and the series was lost for Queensland. It’s now worth noting (i.e. it’s easier to say in hindsight, many years after the event) that the senior Mal (who had lost a yard or two of pace) didn’t back himself. By comparison, a younger Mal would have hit the accelerator and fended off Daley (and most likely scored the try to save the series).


With each match, I also like to investigate the whole contest, not just pinpoint selective moments. As I mentioned earlier, I also like to illuminate how it’s usually a tiny margin between success and failure at Origin level. When you look at the one per centers, there really wasn’t a huge contrast from Game 3 of 2000 (which NSW won 56-16) to Game 1 of 2001 (when Queensland won 34-16 after leading 34-4 at one stage). A near-miss at one end and a try – especially against the run of play – at the other end can have huge consequences. So too can a penalty on the fifth tackle!


This brings me to another situation where people clearly allowed emotion to cloud their judgment. In 2000, NSW completed a 3-0 series whitewash after its resounding 40-point triumph in Game 3. There was talk that Origin was ‘dead’ because of NSW dominance. Renowned passionate Queenslander Chris Close claimed that the Maroons “didn’t give a f…” and that they “f…ing gave up in that third game”. It was also reported that the Maroons virtually didn’t even show up to play. It was supposedly all doom and gloom (from a Queensland perspective anyway) in Origin football. The NSW try that was celebrated with the ‘hand grenade’ also gained ample attention (completely unwarranted in my view).


Hang on a minute. Queensland came achingly close to winning Game 1 and was a bit unlucky to lose. The series could’ve panned out very differently had Queensland won Game 1. Game 2 was also very tight for the first hour. Also, the 2000 series was the first time in three years that NSW had won the Origin shield. How could the competition suddenly be on the cusp of extinction when one team wins the series for the first time in three years? When you consider Queensland won 11 of 12 series from 2006 to 2017, was there any talk then that the competition was on the verge of becoming obsolete?


In the 1988 NSWRL Grand Final, it’s well known that Balmain’s chances evaporated when Terry Lamb ironed out Balmain’s key player: Ellery Hanley. But why was Lamb allowed to stay on the field? Why hasn’t it been noted that perhaps Lamb should’ve been sent off? Even with Hanley gone, wouldn’t it have been a different story if Lamb was dismissed and the Bulldogs were down to 12 men?


To sum up, I think that emotion and immediacy and the “heat of the moment” tend to cloud people’s judgment in sport (and probably other things) a lot, and that includes what is reported online and in the media. Sometimes, certain things (like the possibility that Terry Lamb should’ve been sent off in the 1988 Grand Final) get overlooked. With the passing of time, when the dust has settled, it’s interesting to see how one’s views can change considerably.


I’m interested to know your thoughts. Anyone?


Read a review of Liam’s book State of Origin: 40 Years here.

You can read more of Liam Hauser’s Almanac contributions by clicking here.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


About Liam Hauser

A Queenslander through and through, Liam went out of his comfort zone as he had a thoroughly worthwhile time in Tumut and Gundagai from 2008 to 2016 before enjoying a year in Gunnedah. His strongest sporting interests are State of Origin, Sheffield Shield, Test cricket and the NRL. His sporting CV doesn’t have many highlights, although he once top-scored in a warehouse cricket match with 54 not out at number 10, and shared in an unbroken last wicket stand of 83 with the number 11 who scored an undefeated 52. Liam has written books including State of Origin 40 Years, A Century of Cricket Tests, A History of Test Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Rugby League, and The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League's Greatest Contests. Also a huge fan of Electric Light Orchestra.


  1. A couple of observations, Liam. As I get older (now in my late 60s), I find that I’ve become less emotionally engaged in individual matches and tend to be able to appreciate the good play of both teams, even if I happen to be supporting one of the sides involved. I find this less wearing on the nerves and my overall demeanour. The exception is State of Origin where the Queenslander in me takes over and I become a ball of nerves. I think there’s too much history in those interstate clashes over the decades (including pre-Origin) to be balanced and rational. The second thought revolves around your notion that referees/umpires don’t cheat and are simply human. I agree with you but I’ll be interested to see what sort of contention your assertion draws. I feel for the match officials because they’re likely to cop it one way or the other. All too rarely do/can we say, ‘The refs were invisible’, the ultimate accolade.

  2. Do you have time for anything else, Liam?

    True what you say, obviously the heat of the moment is quite different to reality in hindsight, but the tears still well-up when I watch the 2005 and 2012 Swans Grand Finals!

    Congratulations on the book

  3. Stainless says

    Liam I’m coming to a very similar conclusion from my review of the 1981 VFL season. The passing of time has this effect in two ways. One is that with the benefit of hindsight you can review events with greater detachment and objectivity, knowing the outcome. Second, though is that I think that with age and perspective, we approach immediate events with less emotional volatility. In 1981 I was 17 and rode every bump of the emotional rollercoaster of that season. I’m very dispassionate about it today, but I’m also much more dispassionate about the 2020 season.

  4. Don’t forget live viewing can sometimes highlight both outstanding and equally poor performances away from the ball.. good leaders at half, lazy fullbacks, supporting play etc. It has its merits But I think some metro columnists could certainly take a leaf from your critique and try more objective analysis

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