Almanac Rugby League – Some Origin thoughts from an ecumenical fan

by Lee Carney

Australia is a unique country when it comes to its sport and particularly the football codes, like fans of sport in all nations we follow our teams religiously, having our moods go up and down based on the fortunes, of what in this era of trades and free agency is really a piece of laundry.  However, Australia has one distinction from most other country’s in that not only do we follow our teams, but for most people we have that same sense of loyalty to our favourite football code, for some people following both the NRL and the AFL as I do, is akin to following both Carlton and Collingwood, it is just unthinkable on some level.  A majority of NRL fans in the west will not, despite the best efforts and massive money of the AFL support both the Eels and GWS or the Tigers and GWS, instead they will be hostile to this new entity from that ‘stupid Victorian game’ (edited for family consumption, the phrasing out west is a lot more robust than ‘stupid’)  The same applies to most of my Victorian friends who are incredulous that since moving to Sydney I started to see the merits of ‘those Bum Sniffers’ in the NRL.  Now with soccer, or as we are forced to call it now by the SBS Soccer Gestapo, “football”, well the less said about the crusade by Craig Foster and the like the better, just one thing, for a sport that is ostensibly the 3rd or 4th football code, maybe embracing the ‘adopt us as your 2nd team mindset’ would be a better idea than endlessly prattling on about the superiority of the game they happen to follow and mocking fans of the other codes as hopelessly provincial (full disclosure, I was born in England, played Soccer my whole life and was once party to the stupid comments that the likes of Foster trot out endlessly these days)

There is one time of year though, when the followers of all codes manage to, grudgingly at times, put aside their hostility to the NRL and embrace the game, that time is State of Origin.  In a lot of ways it makes sense, every 4 years we rock up in front of our TV screens and watch people hurling round disks and spears because we know that the Olympics is putting the best of the best at their chosen endeavours on display.  The famous saying that Melbourne could get 60 000 people to watch two flies walk up the Flinders Station wall as always seemed a slight error to me, they would turn up, but only if you told them that these were the two greatest Wall Walking flys on earth, Victorians love the AFL to be sure, but they also love events that put the best on display and that’s why Origin get a prime time weeknight slot, when the Storm cant get on TV before midnight on a Friday.

Origin though offers more than just elite competition, it gives us the one other thing that people used to love about the football codes before the defamation lawyers and Nanny state administrators stole it away from us, the old fashioned dust-up.  Not the jumper pulling melees of the current AFL, but good old fashioned, fists flying square ups, the crowd always erupts in these moments and there is an honour to it.  In the current no fighting era of the football codes, if someone cheap shots your best player you have no recourse except through the official.  In Origin however, if Thurston is cleaned up tomorrow night, the perpetrator can expect the much bigger Nate Myles to come crashing in, fist flying exacting Qld’s revenge and fans all across the country will stand and cheer whether at home or at the pub.

The other great thing about Origin that manages to cross the usual tribal football loyalties is the closeness of the contest over so many years.  The best stat I ever heard at Origin time was during the 25th anniversary series that not only were NSW and QLD tied on games won and series wins, but that amazingly after 25 years only 2 points separated the two teams.  With the recent QLD dominance this has obviously changed, but the beauty of Origin is you know that NSW will also have their time in the sun soon enough, like they did for 4 years before this current QLD run.

Finally, I think Origin offers us one other thing that our current club competitions have lost, in the era of Free Agency, player trades, big money contracts and Footballer scandals, State of Origin gives us the absolute knowledge that these players are playing purely for the Jersey.  When we see QLD stage yet another miraculous late game comeback and see the ecstasy on the players faces, we know that these players will not be celebrating a NSW comeback the following year, NSW fans know that Paul Gallen will never score the winning Try for QLD whereas we all live with the knowledge that Chris Judd might be holding the Premiership Cup for West Coast one year and kicking 6 against them 6 months later if he so desires and the money is right.  I don’t begrudge players their pay packets and their freedom, in fact at 27% of total revenues AFL players are WOEFULLY underpaid, but there is something great about 3  times a year seeing the best play the best and knowing with absolute certainty that the players bashing each other this year will not be teaming up the following year, it allows us to believe in the hate, regardless of all the mate against mate rhetoric, for the non-NRL fan these 3 games are their only interaction with the Northern Code, and clearly the ratings have shown us, they like what they see.

About Lee Carney

Born in England, raised in Melbourne from 10 years old and moved to Sydney in 2002. A lover of all sports, from Soccer which I played my whole life, through to AFL, NRL and all the US sports, particularly the NFL which is my favourite sport. A lover of reading great sportswriting, and a dabbler in writing myself. Love intelligent Sports discussion based on the games not the off-field issues, this makes Offsiders my favourite sports talk show.


  1. Don’t mind League…good for TV as are a lot of “off-side” games, but can’t share your rationale for Origin. It has risen to replace failed Internationalism and is an awful example of bullish, hysterical marketing. Meaningless. Fit for hyperbolic Rabbits, arcane Tommy Raudonikas or those like Tallis who can justify their thuggery. A reminder why we don’t want that Origin crap back in Aussie Rules. Didn’t watch tonight but am happy to tune in if nothing better to do…had the experience of watching one night at Coolum Surf Club with my Cockroach mate (and bar manager)! It, I guess, fills a gap. And the betting agencies just love it.

  2. johnharms says

    magnificently insular Crio

  3. Adam Muyt says

    Crio, way off the mark! Failed internationalism – huh? It arose because the annual state rep contests (part and parcel of League culture – and Union for that matter) were usually so one-sided, with NSW belting Qld most years. All due to the player drain to the Sydney RL – anyone playing in Sydney was able to play for the NSW side. So, the RL admin in the late 70s started to think about the state rep side differently in an attempt to make the games worthwhile – state-of-origin was born. Put aside the immense hype – no one can question their value, as spectacles, on financial returns, but most importantly, for providing the code with an anchor ‘cultural’ event. Every code needs them – think FA Cup, Super Bowl, etc. Fact is, two states ‘own’ League in Australia so they play off for the bragging rights as to which of them is the best.

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