State of Origin reborn as pent-up frustration evaporates in front of a sold-out crowd | State of origin

State of Origin rose on Wednesday night and a crowd of 80,512 fans rose with it. They came from towns and suburbs, country towns and spots on the map, along the east coast of Australia. In planes, trains and buses, in cars and taxis, on foot and on the telephone, they argued their allegiances all the way to the stadium. At kick-off, they made a noise to behold: frustration exorcised from pandemic days and a deep passion for “the fiercest rivalry in sport”.

Queensland defied injuries and underdog status to beat New South Wales 16-10. Of course, giving Maroon’s men longer chances and fewer players is an advantage. North of the border, they thrive on adversity, so when Xavier Coates limped off, followed by Jeremiah Nanai, Billy Slater’s team rose to their feet. They needed it. Brad Fittler’s side had the advantage but still went 4-6 behind at halftime. It’s Origin: not necessarily fair, but everything happens for a reason.

In the end, six points made the difference. And given the aggregate scores from 32 years of competitions between 2000 and 1994 in favor of NSW before this year’s series opener, six points was fine. It locks the ledger to 2010 for Game 2 in Perth on June 26 and perfectly captures the magic of Origin for fans and players alike. Because no game enters mythology faster or makes champions greater.

Origin moves at high speed, the tackles are harder, the feeling is deeper, the acts more durable. The images it conjures up – Wally Lewis facing Mark Geyer in the rain, Steve Mortimer kissing the SCG mud in victory, Benny Elias bleeding all over his mother, Mark Coyne crawling towards a miracle trial – live on forever and fuel a event which is pure entertainment. At its heart, State of Origin brings out the best qualities in young athletes honored to represent their state and with it, their families, former teams, coaches and teammates.

Queensland and New South Wales have played each other since rugby league began in 1908, but NSW won 75% of the series played until 1956 and then 96.2% of all games until 1981. Money was to blame. Ever since slot machines came to clubs in 1956, Sydney clubs have been throwing money at talent wherever they are. Paul Hogan joked in 1977 that “every time Queensland produces a good footballer, he ends up being dealt by a New South Wales poker machine”.

So Queensland-born players played for NSW and their dominance killed interstate rivalry. The only way to reignite the blood feud going forward, claimed former journalist-turned-player Jack Reardon, was to allow the Sydney-based Queenslanders to represent their home state. “You can take the Queenslander out of Queensland,” the Maroon officials yelled, “but you can’t take the Queenslander out of the Queenslander!” After another 2–0 win against NSW in 1980 (the second to just 1,638 Sydneysiders), an experimental NSW match against Queensland “Origin” was proposed for Lang Park. Heavily opposed in New South Wales, he was vigorously promoted in Queensland. Australian captain Bob Fulton predicted “the non-event of the century”.

But Arthur Beetson knew something else. A Mandandanji man from Rome, Beetson had become the first Indigenous athlete to lead an Australian sports team in 1973, and with a single act in Origin 1 – punching out teammate and friend Mick Cronin – he created the modern-day Origin rivalry. The bloodshed that night became the model for “state against state, mate against mate” and a grudge carried to this day.

Queensland players line up for the national anthem. Photography: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Beetson’s principle was also confirmed in the brighter lights of Origin increasing players’ chances. Perform well and you shine all the more. If you fail, the spotlight will expose all of your character’s flaws. Each team had proven champions, high-caliber players chosen regardless of form: the speed, trickery and vision of rival full-backs Tedesco and Ponga sparked daring raids throughout Wednesday’s game. But as usual in Origin, the maligned players played brilliantly and the proven stars fizzled.

No one thought Jack Wighton should play except Wighton and Coach Fittler. But he scored the Blues’ first try and was a dervish in attack and defense all night. Queensland’s Valentine Holmes was seen as a risky selection but made seven tackles, two of which were successful save tries and each was essential to the result. Blue Tariq Sims was deemed too old but he ran like a young bull and nearly scored a try. Josh Papalii’s days as an enforcer for the Maroons were on the wane but his weight knocked down Isaah Yeo tomorrow on the game’s first charge and brutalized NSW in defense before leaving after 15 minutes, returning for the final five .

Nathan Cleary laced his boots badly and everything faltered, but even on a bad night for the playmaker, he was the arrowhead of the Blues’ attack as they charged home. Last series Superman Dane Gagai missed the tackle that led to Wighton’s try and dropped the ball cold on a play shortly after, but when rookie winger Selwyn Cobbo shredded a grubber in the field, the veteran center was there to charge. In Origin, redemption may be a moment away.

Cobbo’s grandfather was Eddie Gilbert, a near-mythical fast bowler from Cherbourg whom Don Bradman considered the fastest he had ever faced. At just 19 and with less than 20 NRL games under his belt, 19-year-old Cobbo and Jeremiah Nanai made Artie and Eddie proud to step up in maroon, as did fellow rookies Patrick Carrigan and Reuben Cotter.

Pushing youngsters like a hooker behind the hooves of his cattle, Cameron Munster, a maverick in the Beetson mould. With the biker mo shaved and his mullet shorn and bleached, Munster staggered and staggered between the lines, spun in and around tackle attempts and began to vomit when he was finally choked. After splitting the Blues line and setting up their captain’s try, his final act was a one-on-one steal that stopped NSW.

It didn’t make sense, but it was great entertainment. And as fans returned to trains and planes, hitting the highways again with a new batch of memories, victory and defeat were irrelevant. A new game was coming where an old rivalry would be reborn.

Back To Top