Origin biggest but not the best
IT'S the biggest game of league ever - if you're a New South Welshman. That's how Ray "Rabbits" Warren sees Wednesday night's State of Origin decider. Presumably for Queenslanders it's a fairly sizeable occasion too, given the prospect of farewelling Darren Lockyer in the Maroon jumper in fitting style by putting yet another series to bed.
Origin matches are never knowingly undersold by our cousins across the ditch. The size of the occasion tends to sit somewhere between enormous and gargantuan, with series deciders the footy equivalent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the first Ghostbusters movie.
It's still more than 48 hours away and yet the build-up to Wednesday night's showdown has already involved a spectacular level of hyperbole and melodrama. Phil Gould - who else - took things to new lows with his remarkably xenophobic view that you simply can't trust Queenslanders. Ever.
Then there were the weekend reports that the once fluffy-bunny friendship between coaches Ricky Stuart and Mal Meninga has become a casualty of mounting Origin tension. Mates no more, we are led to believe.
Throw in a call for NSW players to boycott an NRL match; the self-fulfilling prophesy injuries to three key players; the breathless revelations that game two hero Jamie Soward and his cobbers would actually be okay for game three; the hefty suspension for the equally hefty Dave Taylor for an offence curiously similar to that for which Blues wing Aquila Uate escaped any sanction; Lockyer banging on about his mum (if he hasn't yet he will, trust me), and you've got a plot to rival any soap opera.
When the increasingly corpse-like Gould stands between the Suncorp uprights shortly before kick-off banging on about passion and desperation the traditional sweeping 360-degree camera trickery won't be required. The world really will be revolving around him. Or so the Aussies would have us believe.
Lap it up if you will, but don't peddle that "Origin is the highest form of the game" nonsense around these parts. Benji Marshall, Adam Blair, Manu Vatuvei and Jeremy Smith, to name a few, would walk into either state side. Were he not a Kiwi, Kieran Foran would be slipping into a blue jumper on Wednesday night.
The best players in the world aren't exclusively Australian any more. And the best Australian players seem to struggle rather badly against their Kiwi counterparts whenever there's a significant trophy on the line.
It may no longer feature the best playing talent, but Origin remains the pinnacle in terms of its pulling power and commercial importance.
As another red team dismantled a blue team at Suncorp on Saturday night, the Aussie commentators expressed their glee at a crowd of just over 40,000 turning up for the Super whatever-it-is-these-days semifinal. Wow. Suncorp seats 52,500 fans. The official record for the ground is 52,498 for a 2006 Bledisloe Cup match, however, the Sold Out signs routinely go up for Origin matches.
NSWRL boss Geoff Carr has blasted Queensland's decision to opt for a media blackout ahead of the match as a wasted chance to push the code's claims in the face of the ever-present threat of AFL and rugby. "In the end, Queensland have elected to do what Queensland usually do - think of themselves first and everyone else second," Carr said.
Don't panic, Geoff. People know the game is on all right. Really, how could they not?