Almanac Rugby League – State of Origin 2015: Blasphemy, But Origin Ain’t What It Used To Be

As 80,000 people file into ANZ Stadium for the first edition of State of Origin tonight, I recall how this contest totally tansfixed the world of rugby league.

The Sydney rugby league competition became the premier competition as the Football Clubs were funded by the poker machine lead Leagues Clubs. Poker machines were not yet in Queensland, so the Brisbane clubs had little chance of retaining the best of their local talent while the raiders of the south came calling with their large chequebooks.

There were some notable exceptions.  Test representatives Mark Murray, Colin Scott, Bryan Niebling, Greg Conescu, and some genuine champions of the game in Gene Miles, Mal Meninga and Wally Lewis had yet to take up the offer of the filthy lucre.

When joined by their NSW based colleagues like Paul Vautin, Kerry Boustead, Chris Close, John Ribot, Darryl Brohman and Dale Shearer, the Queensland team of the early 80’s were a near unbeatable force.  Even better, in my opinion, of the team that had only lost their first series in 7 years last year.

But therein layed the beauty of the Series. In Sydney, we only got to see The King, Meninga, Miles, et al only 3 times a year. If there were any home Test matches that year we’d get to see them maybe 2 or 3 more times that year. It was a rare event to see these guys in action.

There was no broadcast of the Brisbane competition into Sydney. When channel ten decided to show the Brisbane Grand Final live into Sydney for the very first time in 1984. It was a blow out as the Wally Lewis lead Wynumm Manly thrashed Mal Meninga’s Brisbane Souths 42 to 8.  A contest it was not and the Brisbane Grand Final never played into Sydney again.

I recall going with my father to the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch the First Test between Australia and Great Britain.  Sydney fans hadn’t had a chance to see Wally Lewis since the previous year’s Origin decider.

It was a memorable game, in the driving rain the ground was covered in a layer of water.  The scores were tied late in the game, Wally attempts a field goal to break the deadlock but it hits the crossbar and the ball falls into the in goal area, where front rower Greg Dowling ran through to ground the ball and score the winning try.

Wally was now the Captain of the Kangaroos.  The highest honour the game can bestow.  As he lead out the Green and Gold from the Members Stand, the chorus from the hill on the opposite side of the ground could be heard, “Wally’s a wanker.”

Could you imagine the Captain of the national team in any other sport being “cheered” like that by a home crowd?  It seems to be beyond comprehension.

But it was this complete unknown quantity of Origin that provided a level of passion that simply cannot be replicated thirty years later.

Even the television coverage has lost that unique special place in the cultural environment. The regular season rights holder was Seven and then Ten. Nine only bid for the Origin and Test matches.  As such, this was the only time we got to hear the booming excitement of Daryl Eastlake, a truly unique broadcaster that won’t ever be replicated in commercial television again.

Rugby league has undergone many dramatic conversions over the past three decades.  The New South Wales Rugby League recognised they had to expand their completion beyond Sydney, first by adding Illawarra and Canberra into the competition in 1982, then added Newcastle, Gold Coast and Brisbane in 1998.

To continue the growth the controlling body of the competition was now the Australian Rugby League and they added North Queensland, South East Queensland, Perth and Auckland into the competition in 1995.

The Brisbane competition was now a second class competition and was wound up in 1997.

Since the addition of the Broncosm Cowboys, the many incarnations of Gold Coast and the mass transplant of talent to the Melbourne Storm, since the late 1980’s all players in Origin are now regular fixtures in what is now the premier competition.

We don’t have to wait nearly 12 months to vent our anger to the players we love to hate.  This includes the likes of Justin Hodges, Darius Boyd, Nate Myles, Billy Slater and Jonathon Thurston.

We see them when they come to our local ground during the regular NRL season.

The mystery is gone. The agonising wait to put these blokes to the sword and get our revenge just isn’t there anymore.

We know who is going to play for Queensland even before their team is selected. Greg Inglis grew up at Macksville, the same town of fallen cricketer Phil Hughes, yet according to the selectors it’s been annexed into the Sunshine State. That’s just one of many examples of how they cheat.

The magic of Origin as I knew it as a kid just isn’t there anymore. That’s not to say the football isn’t as good, it is the game being played to it’s highest level of intensity in front of passionate fans.

Go the Blues, but I can yell at Hodges when the Broncos come to Penrith Park.

About Wayne Ball

Tragic fan of the Australian and NSW cricket teams (for those of you outside NSW, there is a difference, despite what David Hookes said). Not a fan of T20. Penrith Panthers are the only club of decency and all which is good in Rugby League, the Waratah's were once the national team of Rugby Union, the first non Victorian team in the VFL/AFL is the Sydney Swans, and they all enjoy my passionate support. Sings for Wanderers. Internationally, I have been to see the Oakland Athletics and Green Bay Packers play. One day, I'll see Norwich City play for the FA Cup at Wembley.


  1. Now I know where Ross Lyon gets his ideas from. Yawn.
    This was the WW1 centenary game. All the action in the first year, with three years of pointless bombardment and assaults to follow.
    Master Chef and House Rules are safe south and west of the XXXX line.

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