Is State of Origin bigger than the Grand Final?
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Craig Bellamy made an interesting comment earlier this week when he was asked by former AFL champion Alastair Lynch if he had any concerns about releasing his players for State Of Origin.
Bellamy replied: ” Origin is a huge thing in our sport. Probably the grand final is about the only thing that might be a touch bigger… if it is.”
Could a mid-week best-of-three concept competition like Origin really be more important than the game that decides the season?
From a supporters perspective it probably is. An entire State follows each of the teams and the TV ratings and crowd for Origin II last Wednesday were comparable with those for last year’s Grand Final.
But if players had to make a choice would they really choose playing State of Origin over winning a premiership? From what I have witnessed during the last fourteen years, I think the answer is yes.
The importance of State of Origin to the players cannot be underestimated. Firstly, with a dearth of competitive international teams it is the highest standard of rugby league in the world.
Just as importantly, it appears the representatives of each State loathe each other which adds a spiteful physical element to the sublime skills.
As a Victorian following the game for the first time, I was surprised by the huge importance attached to these representative fixtures and the ferocity with which they were played.
I was glad for my team’s players to be selected as it was a recognition of their achievements and the esteemed status of the team but my eye was always on the big prize at the end of 26 gruelling rounds and the do-or-die finals matches. State of Origin is a magnificent spectacle but it compromises the team I follow.
You find yourself riding every big hit (which most tackles are in Origin) and just hoping your team’s players survive.
Unfortunately the players are not of the same mindset. It is the pinnacle of their game and they will do anything to play even if they’re not fit to do so. They will deny anything is wrong during these games and risk season ending injuries.
Should Billy Slater really have played the second half of Origin II with a torn posterior cruciate ligament? Was Neil Henry screaming through the television at his man Brent Tate to stay off the ground after he hobbled to the sidelines (only to return immediately to the brutal defensive line).
When Sharks coach Shane Flanagan saw inspirational captain Paul Gallen stay down after a tackle did he fear his team’s premiership chances were shot?
Bellamy did mention that Origin is a good for clubs because ” you think they [Origin players] are going to come back better for the experience”. While playing would certainly help prepare you for the pressures of a grand final it’s a fact that playing Origin is severely taxing on the mind and body. It must feel like you’ve played at least three grand finals already.
The coaches must decide whether to play their representative stars, or rest them and risk compromising ladder position.
Despite what some fans may say it’s difficult to know if Origin has cost teams a premiership. The Broncos, who have provided a hefty chunk of the Queensland squad over the years, haven’t lost a grand final; although Origin may have cost them a place in several of them.
The growth of Origin has been quite staggering, especially when you consider that Game 2 of the first series in 1980 drew a crowd of 1638. Wednesday’s game attracted 83,111.
When the panel of ex AFL players interviewing Bellamy couldn’t understand how NRL coaches could let Origin compromise their teams’ premiership aspirations, Bellamy explained: “All the players want to play Origin. All want to play at the highest level. It’s something we cherish”.
You can’t argue with that.