Origin in Melbourne is great for rugby league in Victoria

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For the sixth time in NRL State of Origin history, the canetoads and cockroaches will clash in Melbourne, this time in game one of the series.

It will be the second time that the series will kickoff in Melbourne. The first, in 2009, saw Queensland win 28-18 in front of 50,967. Melbourne Storm fans were treated several times, with Greg Inglis crossing the line for two tries and Billy Slater one.

Being a passionate rugby league fan, I was thrilled when the NRL announced that one of the greatest rivalries in sport would be again making the trip south.

To have game one of the State of Origin being played away from the two powerful league states is massive news for rugby league in Melbourne.

Melbourne would challenge any other location worldwide for sporting passion. One thing is guaranteed – the game will be a sell out. Passionate fans and casual observers alike will don either blue or maroon to get behind their team.

Besides the profits generated via gate takings and sponsorship, the game will have a hugely positive impact for rugby league in an AFL-mad state.

The game is continuing to grow in Victoria. Like any sport, support starts at the grass roots – in the schools. Although AFL rules Victoria, 50,000 school children attended rugby league school programs in 2010.

School camps like this provide pathways for prospective league players who traditionally didn’t have many opportunities outside of Australian Rules football.

In Victoria, the NRL and Melbourne Storm will always be second to the all-powerful AFL. However, the Storm’s crowd numbers continue to rise and the colour purple increasingly lines the Yarra River on game day.

Aside from those attending the match, the game will promote league in other ways. In the lead-up to the series, Victorian newspapers and television will be unusually full of rugby league.

Being a Victorian, I chose many years ago to side with the Maroons. This is partly because my father is from New South Wales and I wanted to create an inter-family rivalry.

I have grown up cheering the likes of Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Alfie Langer and Fatty Vautin. Now, I cheer for Cam Smith, Billy Slater and Jonathan Thurston.

Last year Melbourne fans were fortunate enough to have 2011 Wally Lewis Medal winner and Melbourne Storm captain Smith along with crowd favourite and 2011 Dally M Medal winner Slater starring in the Queensland side.

In addition to Smith and Billy, Storm boys Cooper Cronk and Dane Nielsen were in the team. All four are likely to be back in the maroon jersey this year.

Game two of the series will be back in Sydney at ANZ Stadium. Game three, the potential decider, will take place at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium with Queensland aiming to win their seventh straight State of Origin series.

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