State of Origin: The story so far

The age-old rivalry has reared its ugly head again, and Christine Lai is here with a recap of what we saw in game 1. 

Every year without fail, people wait with bated breath for two teams to come together in a head-to-head, and pour blood, sweat and tears into a three-game duel that lasts two months. The Blues versus The Maroons. An age-old rivalry which goes through the best players in Rugby League with a fine-tooth comb and generates the strongest two teams possible in a series that bares all, and leaves everything on the field. 

Though the interstate rivalry has had its claws dug into rugby since 1908 and saw a 70-year domination by the NSW side, it wasn’t until July 1980 that the league hosted its first State of Origin match. Players were selected from the state they grew up in instead of their current place of residence -a rule which decided previous matches, and has since been held for State of Origin selection to this day. 

Since then, State of Origin football has taken on a life of its own, with the matches being aired in 90 countries around the globe and watched by more than 4 million people in Australia alone. 

This year, game 1 was hosted on NSW home soil at Accor Stadium (Sydney) with a whooping 80 512 fans in attendance. Tonight’s game 2 is set to be hosted on neutral ground, Perth, before the teams battle it out in Suncorp Stadium, Queensland for game 3. 

Having come off surgery days before and heeding the doctor’s recommendation of bed rest, I watched the match from the comforts of my living room, waiting with anticipation for kick-off at 8pm. 

In the lead-up to team selections, there is great scrutiny placed on the line-up. This year, Josh “The Fox” Addocarr failed to get a place on Brad Fittler’s team and was swapped for Roosters winger, Daniel Tupou. For someone who scored 23 tries in 22 games for Melbourne Storm in the 2021 NRL season, his absence in the Blues team would’ve been felt and arguably rocked the boat. The Fox has also scored 10 tries in his 12 Origin appearances, so the axing of the specialist winger was a big talking point in this Origin selection snub.

Another controversy was QLD’s choice of coach, with champion fullback Billy Slater manning the reins in his first ever professional coaching role since he announced his retirement in 2018. A pivotal player in past Origin clashes, Slater has made 31 appearances for the Maroons during QLD’s complete domination of the sport from 2006 to2015, winning 9 of the 10 series in that time. One of the greats, the only question was whether he would be able to bring QLD to victory in a first-time coaching capacity. 

With that, I turn to the match. The whistle has blown. Kick-off has begun. 

The first half of the match is messy and aggressive. A remarkable 40 minutes of Origin with an even contest, at two points a difference. Both sides have cobbled up a try a piece and a conversion from Queenslander Valentine Holmes makes it 6-4, in favour of the Maroons. 

Wearing hallmarks of the Origin classic, the match lives up to the hype. I watch as the cameras pan across the crowd. In a sea of blue and white, many are wrapped with scarves, headgear and jumpers, but they remain unconcerned by the wind and are up on their feet on the grandstands, dancing, and cheering. 

In a new era with fresh young players, all eager to hold the glory of being Origin winners, everyone is out for blood. While watching the Blues attempt to go through the middle of the Maroons, I look back at a conversation that I had with a friend where we texted back and forth during game 2 of Origin, 2020. Both of us flicked messages to one another after spotting a loose carry, a knock-on, change of possession, a missed tackle – everything was a highlight. Nothing was to be lost in the sporting abyss. 

“Did you see that try?” 

“Insane!!! And he’s 19” 

“Try on debut goddamn”

“God, where was this when he was playing for the Broncos this season?” 

“Honestly, watch them get the wooden spoon this year” 

Mixed with…

“I don’t know how they couldn’t score after 3 attempts. And be forced to changeover at the exact same spot” 

“NSW has made so many plays in the opponent’s 20 and QLD have mainly been playing in defence” 

Worthy to note we were supporting different teams. Rivals for the evening. 

I return to the match after halftime and the commentators are speaking on Slater: a rookie coach in every sense of the word, with no club experience in Australia or abroad. Yet, the preparation of the team has been scrupulous, and the play reflects that. 

In the last 2 minutes of the match, spectators watch on and wait to see whether NSW can pull a last-ditch attempt to do a “QLD on the Maroons” (known for their late comebacks), but Isaiah Yeo (NSW) is tackled cleanly to the ground by Kalyn Ponga (QLD) and the ref blows his whistle. The flurry of blue in the grandstands boo at the call, hoping for NSW to have one last play-the-ball before the game finished. 

The Origin opener ends in a 16-10 defeat. QLD have proven their prowess, and we must now hold our heads high for the upcoming match in Perth. 

An outstanding game of football from both sides, the Maroon men capitalised on good field position and gained yardage, strong in their attacking line and in their defence. 

Origin’s gruelling 80 minutes played at a high-intensity level (averaging 95m per minute versus 85m per minute in a typical NRL game), displays a striking vivacity and energy that seals rugby league with a memorably biting three-part series. 

In a world of sports where competition is fierce, watching rugby games conjures up a high like no other. Last year, my friend’s sister broke her foot while preliminarily celebrating the Panthers premiership win, having jumped off the sofa and landing awkwardly on the floor. She was on crutches for weeks. 

This is the energy I live for. Both of us wait once more in anticipation for game 2 kick-off, religiously following updates on changes to selections and player injuries. If game 1 was any indication, tonight’s game could swing in either team’s direction. And, with the last few nights of Origin footy spinning wins for us left, right and centre (U19 Mens, U19 Womens and Womens), the pressure is on. May the odds be ever in our favour (read: NSW). Yes Freddy, I’m looking at you.

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