Yarra Man: Rugby league origin games go all right

By Tavis Perrry

As an avid sports lover, I really enjoyed watching the rugby league state-of-origin clash between NSW and Queensland, in particular the maroons’ star-studded and highly formidable defensive end. With AFL being my footy code of choice, I couldn’t help but compare the differences that I see between the AFL and NRL.
The obvious difference is the NRL’s approach to state-of-origin clashes. They’re almost the centrepiece of the competition. I get the impression that, unlike AFL players, NRL players actually put a greater precedence on state-of-origin than playing for their club. There’s no doubt that it’s easier for the NRL state-of-origin clashes to prosper when there’s only two main rugby league playing states, but I admire the fact that the clubs encourage their star players to participate. It’s a far cry from the AFL, where coaches came out each year and admitted they would be reluctant to let their players take part in a glorified exhibition match in case it hindered their own chances of success.
The lead up to the state-of-origin clashes is always phenomenal and for an AFL lover like me it is just as appealing as the game itself. Showing highlights from past clashes and in particular hearing the thoughts of old champions from those clashes really builds the anticipation. I loved Andrew Ettinghausen’s pre-match comment that his thoughts on the team bus on the way to each origin game was, “If I die on the field tonight I’ve had a good life”. I highly doubt an AFL player would put that much credence on a state-of-origin clash if they were involved.
One of the highlights from last Wednesday night’s game was when NSW speedster Jonathon Hayne tore up one of the wings early in the match and scored a sixty-metre try. Unfortunately it was disallowed because video replays showed that his foot had crossed the sideline. That decision really slowed any impetus NSW had gained, but I was impressed that the referee could call on a match referee to confirm any doubts on the try. I think it heightens the NRL’s professionalism and is something the AFL should consider. The technology has been available for years and I believe it would only enhance the game to be able to make succinct decisions instantly. It’s in areas like this that the NRL seems to be ahead of the AFL.
One of the real lowlights of the origin clash was the lack of insightful analysis and statistics at the half-time break. For someone reasonably uneducated on the intricacies of rugby league, it was hard to get a gauge on who was playing well and why, and how NSW in particular could wrangle their way back into the match. I think the AFL is streets ahead in this part of their coverage. Instead of just showing replays of the tries at half-time, I would’ve preferred to hear about strategies to pierce the Queensland defence. Also, seeing the players sitting on plastic chairs at half-time wasn’t a good look – it looked more like a primary school English class than an elite rugby league side gearing up for the biggest second half of the year.
I also didn’t like the noticeable drop in intensity of the game from the first half to the second. Obviously the game is a lot more rigorous than a regular season NRL match, but one of the features that I love about the AFL is that the standard, pace and precision remain extremely high from start to finish. The number of rotations from the bench in the AFL has expanded rapidly. I feel these rotations have enhanced the game as a spectacle and allowed players to perform at a higher level.
It could be argued that one of the main goals of rugby league is to try to use your strength advantage to exhaust, then run over, your opposition, but as an example—and, remember from an outsider’s perspective—the main area that I thought NSW could have exploited Queensland with was their pace. Hayne in particular looked very dangerous when he had the ball and I thought Craig Bellamy could have used him smarter. Had Hayne been given the opportunity to rest during the first and even second halves, he would have been fresher and more dangerous when the intensity of the game dropped.
Overall I really admire NRL players for the pride they show in representing their state, and the whole code should be proud of the dazzling showcase that is displayed each year. It would enhance the AFL if they could arrange something similar, and although that is highly improbable the NRL gives them a great template of how it could be done.

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