Almanac Rugby League – State of Origin: What are we playing for?



This piece was first published on the Queensland TAB site in 2014.


One of my favourite moments in the sporting year comes in the lead-up to kick-off in State of Origin.


It’s not that overblown bit where Gus Gould starts under the posts and walks slowly towards the camera, gesticulating with one hand, telling us that Origin generally, and this one in particular, is the biggest thing since the Duke of Cumberland threw an intercept pass at the Battle of Culloden.


No, it’s that simple moment when, in introducing the players on the Channel 9 coverage, the graphic shows their home club – where they started playing the greatest game of all – is identified. It includes a folded-arm image of the player trying not to laugh and, across the bottom, is the logo, designed by the local station-master or newsagent, of his club of origin. Billy Slater: Innisfail Brothers. Cooper Cronk: Souths, Acacia Ridge. Matt Scott: Longreach Tigers. (Matt’s from the little town of Ilfracombe). It is brilliant.


It makes you feel like a Queenslander!


It takes you back to where you are from and when you played the game, and it makes you consider the importance of Origin and of the moment. It takes me back to the little country town of Oakey on the Darling Downs and doing backline drills at Under 13 training when the frost was descending and the steam-breath of skinny kids in the linen jumpers of Valleys and the Rabbitohs lingered in the semi-darkness of ancient lights often seen at bowls clubs and local tennis courts. It takes me back to trips (“Mason’s bus will leave at 7.45 from the RSL Hall”) to far-off places to play the farm-boys of Millmerran, the criminals of Newtown or the Catholics of All Whites. Those kids were all huge – and devoid of conscience. And you spent the bus trip trying to avoid a horse bite or a dead-leg while trying to scab a Juicy Fruit off Mudguts Hudson (our prop).


We always copped a flogging and I may have been the most useless five-eighth in the history of the game, but we tried hard. It’s was the `70s and we lived in a fog of interstate disappointment with the Blues so dominant and thieving.


So when State of Origin came along we were liberated. Arthur Beetson and the boys righted the world and we realised, while on the squirt on the veranda at the Regatta, that we were all OK. We were Queenslanders. It was the world that had conspired against us.


And we worked out that Origin mattered.


Well, with nine in a row up for grabs this year (2014), this is no time to rest on our laurels. It is easy to become complacent until you realise they are playing, not for a dry statistical record, they are playing for a way of life.


They are playing for the bacon stuff they put on the baked potatoes at the Brekkie Creek; they are playing for chance meetings at the Pink Pussycat Motel and the freedom to laugh at southerners trying to pick up two bob cemented into the footpath at Surfers; they are playing for the beach at Fraser and bream sanctuaries like the wreck of the Maheno; they are playing for prawn sandwiches on crusty, white bread; they are playing for Yatala Pies and macadamia nut ice-cream, for the rum gravy at the Buderim pub; they are playing for the sound of mangoes hitting the roof; they are playing for storm clouds, cyclones and stubby-holders; they are playing for the shrill whistle of rugby league grounds where tuck-shop ladies with saggy arms dose mushy peas onto pies; they are playing for the Mooloolaba Surf Club; and they are playing for thongs, stubbies and long walk socks (especially on dentists, pharmacists, clergy north of Burpengary and customs officials); they are playing for palm fronds and philodendrons and the City Hall clock; they are playing for the XXXX factory and the Roma Street Station and the Tele and the memory of the Don Tallon Bar; they are playing for that little bit of Queensland blue couch at the front of the 18th green at the Oakey Golf Club; they are playing for the right to give a team-mate a dead-leg in the bus going to their junior game.


Yes, they are playing for a way of life: the right to do bugger-all, wherever bugger-all is happening.


So these boys are charged with a great responsibility.


Which, knowing where they’re from, they will shoulder well.


Go you Queenslanders!



Read more from John Harms HERE.


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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. the maroons v the blues is like the all blacks compared to the wallabies since the glory days that petered out over 12 years ago and have never returned. the blicks can muster the pride for country factor that never seems evident in the wallabies outfits. similarly the maroons can muster the same x factor and turn the game around through slater and the Macksville born and bred Inglis and the others. remember when they brought back alfy langer and he cut the blue apart. he s playing for the pure joy of representing the maroons again. the angst queenslanders feel against nsw doesn’t matter, its that well honed extra pride in country that gets them out of tight situations and continues the dominance.


  2. Hungry( cheap imitation). says

    Nice , could almost smell the Bundy . The Qlder spirit was born when big Artie made his way onto Lang Park , looking as though he’d already gone ten rounds. It was baptised when he clocked his club team mate Mick Cronin and was cemented by the deeds of the likes of Choppy, big Mal, GD, the King, Turtle …. The list goes on . These players cared greatly about representing their state and the state cared about their team . Eight straight was great and nine would be mighty fine. Go QLD !!!!!!

  3. Hugh O'Brien says

    John. Brilliant article. I totally agree. The best part of State of Origin is when the players say where they played as juniors. It is an open invitation to every kid who ever plays anywhere in Queensland that POTENTIALLY, he could be on TV one day with his arms folded like that about to run out on to the Cauldron. It is also a reminder to old codgers like me (second row, Kingaroy Red Ants 1974 reserve grade undefeated premiers) that those players are playing for every Queenslander, everywhere. You just don’t get that same feeling with the New South Wales team. Origin simply does not mean as much to New South Welshmen because they never had to endure years of pre-1980 thrashings at the hands of teams containing Queensland’s best players! PS: I’m sure you were not as bad a five-eight as you make out.
    Hugh O’Brien

  4. Especially loved the evocations of Queensland. These reminded me of Under Milk Wood, which is the highest praise-

    “Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, suckling mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a domino; in Ocky Milkman’s lofts like a mouse with gloves; in Dai Bread’s bakery flying like black flour. It is to-night in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies.”

    Great stuff. Thanks John.

  5. Sam Kekovich eat your heart out. Maybe prawn producers could have their own “don’t come the imported prawn” promos next Australia Day. I know just the bloke.

  6. Todd Slater says

    Hughie O’Brien, pay attention son, your fellow Red Ant runs out tomorrow night in Chris McQueen. For the record, Brothers across all Queensland clubs has 8 players playing tomorrow night. Slater (Innisfail), Smith (Logan), Guerra (Townsville), Cherry Evans (Mackay), Thurston (Toowoomba), Hodges (Cairns), Parker & Papalii (both Logan).
    Game 100 tomorrow evening & i sincerley hope the roar of the Lang Park faithful (forget the insurance company, it will always be Lang Park), is as loud & long as it was in game 1. My late Dad took my brother & i to game 1. We were 12 & 9 respectively. As Dad, took us out the door he turned to Mum & said ‘I’m taking the boys to see history’ We drove thru the suburbs of Brisbane & pulled up on the footpath in Hale St, in the HQ Premier, left it there & in we went, $5 from memory may have been the ticket price for adults, us kids were $2 (a far cry from the $250 being asked for tomorrow night)
    Perched up high behind the goal posts, Carlton Bar end (Milton Rd for the uninitiated) we squashed in & watched the great Arthur Beetson lead Queensland out onto the hallowed turf. For a 12 year old it unforgettable & the roar went on for minutes, i’m sure it reverberated from Bamaga to the Tweed, as a state watched history unfold before its eyes. My favourite part of the game was not the infamous all-in where Artie got it on with the Crow, but when that mighty Cunnamulla Ram come Valley Diehard, Chris Close side stepped the great Wombat Eadie to score the match winner. That’s when we knew it was history, that, & the 21 year old kid from Woombye called Mal Meninga, who booted 7 from 7 on his birthday to get us home.
    We’d spent years as a family – all thru the seventies watching Queensland get rolled, initially on a Saturday afternoon, when interstate football was traditionally played, to those heady days when the floodlights came on, & blokes like Ian Dauth, Dave Wright, Greg Vievers, Peter Eastwell, Ross Strudwick, Rohan Hancock & a whole lot more played their guts out for their state (& Barry Muir). They were always beaten of course, by fitter players jacked up on poker machine money & ably assisted by ex Queenslanders – Boustead, Mitch Brennan, Ray Higgs, Artie Beetson (17 games for NSW !!)
    So crack your favourite beverage tomorrow night, sit back & enjoy the game. While your there, give a cheers to the card table upstairs where i’m sure Artie is watching whilst playing 500 with Origin coach & legendary commentator Jack Gibson & Ronny McAuliffe & Tosser Turner.
    Go Queensland.

  7. Peter Schumacher says

    As a sort of honorary Queenslander, (I lived in various locations there for about eightteen years) I have to say that your contribution gladdened my heart. For me my main memory is of my mates at Social Security where I worked who could forget whinging clients, pressures to perform and get away from humourless female supervisors and use these games to have a few beers and give vent to their feelings in general usually in some cold shed or driveway somewhere. I was part of this and it was fantastic. The atmosphere was always electric.

    Rules simply does not have this culture although it might do if the games were only SA v Vic and the Croweaters kept on winning. This of course will never happen. (Sorry Sandgropers and everyone else who is not Victorian but the whole concept can work if two sides only build up the rivalry. In addition Rules does not lend itself so well to games being close to the extent that a result can sometimes be determined by a single act against the flow of play.

  8. SOO has turned into a hardcore version of soccer finals where teams will only play ‘expansively’ when the game is on the line. More often than not it is a celebration of consistently repeating sets without making mistakes or giving away penalties. When one team gets ahead the other will start throwing it to the backs hoping for the flash of brilliance to turn the game in whoevers favour. Too often the only highlights are great defence/legal GBH and or the miraculous try scored from a kick to the corner for a highflying winger to soar over a mini pack, take a hanger and fall to the ground. (The kind of thing that used to happen 10 times a quarter…)

    My personal hopes are for a QLD win, Gallen to get his head displaced and Justin Hodges to drive NSW to distraction. I probably wouldn’t mind if someone landed one on Hodges either, preferably to get QLD a penalty which is kicked from the sideline to win the game. If NSW win a series with Gallen as captain it will make a liar of my prediction that they would never win with him as captain. Please excuse my selfish/personal vanitorial reasons.

  9. Cockroaches! Maroons believed their own bullshit. Just had to pull on the jumper and magic would happen.
    Work rate wins. Strange refereeing in the last 2 minutes. Very technical, and hard to understand. Still the Maroons lacked imagination when they were gifted a half dozen last chances.
    Changing of the guard? Or can the Maroons pensioners fire up one more time in Sydney now that they have been given a dose of reality?
    Great theatre.

  10. Hugh O'Brien says

    Todd. Loved your reminiscence of the first origin match in 1980. How fortunate you were to be there. My favourite Chris Close memory was him swatting away Eric Grothe in a play the ball. I think it was the 1981 game. For the record, Chris McQueen is the fourth Kingaroy Red Ant to play Origin. The others were David Brown, Brad Tessmann and Matt Ballin.

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