Inviting the rest of the world into State of Origin won’t revive the concept
Inviting the rest of the world into State of Origin won’t revive the concept

Kent: Nonbelievers just won’t get Origin magic

The trick with Blocker Roach is always the eyes.

In popular folklore it is widely known they spin a little whenever there is a little malice in the air.

Other times, say when Benny Elias is around, they become big and brown like a poddy calf, such is his admiration for his little hooker.

When Ellery Hanley's name comes up they take on another look again, one filled with reverence.

Hanley got to Balmain in 1988 and it was soon realised he had all the talent needed to take the Tigers to a premiership, which was going to happen right up until the moment Terry Lamb knocked out Hanley early in the grand final.

There were countless times Roach and his Tigers saw Hanley change a game with a play that soon saw Hanley named as the best player in the world. To formalise the claim, he won the Golden Boot later that year.

The funny thing is, though, Hanley never played State of Origin and yet, somehow, Origin survived.

How it possibly survived is a question the current ARL Commission might want to consider.

Last week Commissioner Wayne Pearce advocated change to Origin eligibility after North Queensland forward Jason Taumalolo, a Tongan and Kiwi international, pleaded his case to also play Origin for Queensland.

 

Balmain’s English star Ellery Hanley is assisted from field after being cleaned up by Canterbury’s Terry Lamb during the 1988 NSWRL grand final.
Balmain’s English star Ellery Hanley is assisted from field after being cleaned up by Canterbury’s Terry Lamb during the 1988 NSWRL grand final.

 

"Why should players who are passionate about playing for Tonga not be allowed to play State of Origin?" he said.

The simple answer is because he would stop a player passionate about playing for Queensland from playing for Queensland. Has anyone stopped to think what the end game might look like?

The spin that Origin is the best of the best always crumbles under inspection.

NSW fans can't even agree on the best NSW side in any series, so how anybody is supposed to pick the best 34 players in any game is doubly impossible.

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Hugh McGahan, the former Kiwi Test captain, never played Origin when he won the Golden Boot in 1987, like Garry Schofield didn't when he was the world's best player in 1990.

Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Burgess, James Graham, Benji Marshall, Stacey Jones … Origin survived without them as well.

Who decides what the best of best looks like And, when, really was Origin ever the best of the best except for in marketing spin?

What Origin does have, though, is rivalry.

 

 

It is a rivalry not evenly balanced, or even properly explained. Instead it remains one driven by Queensland's pathological hatred of NSW, which even Queenslanders can only experience, never explain.

It began the night at Lang Park shortly before the game when Arthur Beetson dropped his bag and began getting dressed alongside a young and impressionable Chris Close.

Beetson was already a legend by this time.

Close watched Big Artie dig two fingers into a jar of Vicks VapoRub and jam them up a nostril, then go back for another scoop for the other nostril.

Then he slowly and deliberately scraped his fingers along his black boot polish before smearing it under his eyes.

This guy is preparing to go to war, Close thought.

The demographics within the NRL have changed significantly since Beetson put on his war paint.

Now, half the competition have Polynesian heritage and many are unavailable for Origin selection, like Taumalolo, who declared allegiance to Tonga despite an approach from Queensland early in his career.

 

Tigers great Benji Marshall.
Tigers great Benji Marshall.

 

Roosters legend Hugh McGahan in 1991.
Roosters legend Hugh McGahan in 1991.

 

Inviting the rest of the world into Origin won't revive the concept or boost flagging television ratings other than, at best, a short term boost.

When the All Star concept first got going the Indigenous All Stars played an NRL All Stars team, made up of the best in the world, from Australia, New Zealand and England, and it soon flagged because nobody cared enough to watch it.

If the NRL really wants to understand why Origin is flagging it could do worse than to trace it back to when former chief executive Dave Smith banned punching.

Origin didn't need punching to survive, and not every game had an all-in brawl to carry it.

But every game had the potential for it and the expectation, some might say, drew in the viewers.

In the movie business they call it narrative tension. What will happen next?

It also keeps you turning the page of a good novel.

 

Jason Taumalolo (second from right) in Queensland colours for an Origin curtain-raiser in Melbourne in 2009.
Jason Taumalolo (second from right) in Queensland colours for an Origin curtain-raiser in Melbourne in 2009.

 

Now, at least part of the narrative tension is gone.

Why Origin means so much to Queenslanders only Queenslanders can explain, and not always then.

When Paul Vautin took over as Queensland coach in 1995 he brought Close in to explain to the unfashionable Maroons, many hired after Super League players were declared ineligible, what it meant to play for Queensland.

Close stood in front of the group and as he thought about what it meant his throat began to seize and the words could not make it out and then finally a tear rolled down his face.

Then he sat down, not a word said, or needed to be said.

Whatever is in their magic dust, it cannot be sold to nonbelievers.

Originally published as Kent: Nonbelievers just won't get Origin magic


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