Origin scheduling lets the young guns shine

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    At this time of the rugby league calendar, State of Origin absolutely dominates the news. I still find it incredible that three games played between two states manages to capture the attention of the rugby league community for a sustained period of at least eight weeks every year.

    From the moment the season kicks off, fans are naming their respective State of Origin squads and it almost seems like club football is forgotten in the lead-up to each of the three games.

    One of the biggest complaints during this time of the season is how disruptive State of Origin is for club football and in particular, for clubs like the Melbourne Storm, Brisbane Broncos, Cronulla Sharks and North Queensland Cowboys who have several of their marquee players missing throughout this period.

    Arguably, the draw disadvantages these teams and gives other clubs, like the New Zealand Warriors, an unfair advantage because of how little their roster is impacted by Origin.

    And when you have a draw that potentially favours some teams over others, fans get cranky.

    I can completely understand this fan frustration. If you pause, can you think of any other professional sporting league in the world where its national competition is disrupted for six weeks a year for a game that has no real meaning?

    Where clubs are forced to go without their marquee players for six weeks which then has a significant impact on the way the ladder sits at the end of the season? Not to mention that the basis for selection into the two teams that play each other is arbitrarily determined by things like where a player was born or where they first played junior football.

    One of the items at the top of the NRL’s agenda for next year is reconsidering the State of Origin schedule and how it can work better. Plenty of suggestions have been mentioned in the media.

    Some are about where the games should be played (including potentially playing one game in Melbourne each year), while others discuss having stand-alone State of Origin weekends with a Representative Round included in between.

    An idea also gaining momentum is changing the format of State of Origin so that each game is played as a double header with the women’s game preceding the men’s.

    I like all three of these ideas, particularly in relation to scheduling. Changing the draw so there are stand-alone State of Origin weekends would mean that teams heavily impacted in the past would not be disadvantaged in the same way.

    The other big problem during State of Origin is that the quality of club football is compromised because so many marquee players are missing.

    Should a change to the scheduling be made, it will also mean that the quality of football during the State of Origin period improves and that fans get to watch the marquee players represent their clubs in all 26 rounds of the year.

    NSW Blues State of Origin NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    But to what extent is the football compromised?

    If you had asked me last week, I would have said – severely – and possibly even admitted that I don’t love football much at this time of the year because of just how much it is impacted by State of Origin. In the past we’ve witnessed some really poor football games during this period between teams that should have the opportunity to play better quality football.

    But then I watched the game between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Melbourne Storm on the weekend.

    Granted, both teams were missing marquee players (in fact, nine players were missing altogether). These are men like Cameron Smith, Michael Morgan, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk. Some fans would have felt cheated because this should have been one of the best games of the season between two of the best teams in the competition. But I watched this game and loved every moment.

    The only possible justification for keeping the schedule the way it is is that the State of Origin rounds give the next generation of players the opportunity to play on the big stage and that it also gives us as fans, the opportunity to watch these young players shine.

    And on the weekend, shine they did.

    As a Parramatta fan, I’m conditioned to hate the Melbourne Storm after their salary cap breaches in the late 2000s – particularly 2009. But over time, particularly as the ‘Big 3′ edge closer to retirement, that hate is shifting to pure respect, simply because of what a professional organisation the Storm are.

    When it comes to the Queensland Maroons, so many fans have been talking about the changing of the guard and the retirement of players like Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith. But this changing of the guard is also set to happen at the Storm in the next couple of years.

    What the weekend proved is that there is a new generation ready to grow into their place and that the future continues to look bright if you are a Storm fan.

    Stand out players on the night included Brodie Croft, Cameron Munster, Curtis Scott and Brandon Smith. Each of these three played a role in at least one of the three consecutive tries that the Storm scored to take the lead in the second half, despite trailing 10-0 at the 25th minute.

    In particular, Brodie Croft set up two tries, showed tremendous composure to kick a perfectly weighted chip kick in extra time to give the Storm a repeat set of six and then kicked the match winning field goal.

    While some teams would be struggling to fill jerseys at this time of the year, Craig Bellamy’s philosophy is that jerseys have to be earnt and every man that took the field on Saturday night, earnt his spot.

    melbourne-storm-nrl-grand-final-rugby-league-2016

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    This game also delivered my favourite moment from Round 15 – an image captured of Croft and his parents in a long embrace after the game. Mum and dad were clearly proud as punch of their son and with a future as bright as his, I don’t blame them.

    So while this might be the last year that State of Origin wreaks havoc on the NRL schedule, this weekend I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to watch the next generation of players emerge and shake up the competition.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (51)

    • June 20th 2017 @ 7:40am
      Oingo Boingo said | June 20th 2017 @ 7:40am | ! Report

      I’ve always thought SOO scheduling was redundant argument , due to the fact that it allows a few fringe players the chance to step up and experience the top grade .
      I doubt Wayne Bennet would complain come semi’s time if one of his stars is injured and his replacement had 1st grade experience from earlier in the year during origin .

      • Roar Guru

        June 20th 2017 @ 10:56am
        Epiquin said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        Coaches also seem to have no problem paying huge sums to get Origin players, even though they know they won’t have them for 2 games a year.

        • June 20th 2017 @ 11:05am
          jeff dustby said | June 20th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

          ricky stuart does exactly the opposite

        • Columnist

          June 20th 2017 @ 7:41pm
          Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 20th 2017 @ 7:41pm | ! Report

          That’s a good point.

    • Roar Guru

      June 20th 2017 @ 8:33am
      The Barry said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      The weekends game between the Cowboys and Storm was outstanding but honestly it’s the exception not the rule.

      I’d still rather watch Thurston, Morgan, Hess, Cooper vs Slater, Smith, Cronk, Chambers than the young blokes.

      It’s great the young blokes get an opportunity but Cowboys v Storm is one of the marquee games of the season and should be treated as such.

      • Columnist

        June 20th 2017 @ 8:42am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        The Barry, I completely agree with you and as I said in my article, football at this time of the year is generally a little bit disappointing.

        I think the schedule will be changed next year anyway – but I guess that game between the Cowboys v Storm reminded me how entertaining games with young talent can be.

        • June 20th 2017 @ 10:24am
          Boz said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

          Hi Mary. From what I’ve heard, next year Origin 1 and 3 will be played on Wednesday Nights and Origin 2 on a Sunday which will be the only game played that weekend.

          For mine, the best solution would be to pause the NRL competition for 4 weeks, Play Origin, Pacific Tests and the Kiwis, England and France to play some internationals too. Since the Northern and Southern Hemisphere competitions are now in sync, this shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.

          • Roar Guru

            June 20th 2017 @ 11:01am
            Scott Pryde said | June 20th 2017 @ 11:01am | ! Report

            Boz – On the Origin 2 weekend (which is being played in Melbourne I might add), there will also be Pacific Tests, Junior Origins and New Zealand vs England in Auckland (likely to be on the Saturday).

            • June 20th 2017 @ 12:41pm
              Boz said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

              Great to hear Scott. Imagine if they could have these Pacific nations playing 3 tests each instead of the one during this time. Small steps in the right direction though.

          • Columnist

            June 20th 2017 @ 7:43pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 20th 2017 @ 7:43pm | ! Report

            Hi Boz – my only query to stopping the competition is the extension of the season and it getting to a point where it’s too long. Let’s take this year for example – the season will end in October and then the very next month we have a World Cup. If the season had been pushed out an extra 4 weeks this just wouldn’t work.

            • June 20th 2017 @ 9:03pm
              Andy P said | June 20th 2017 @ 9:03pm | ! Report

              Mary K, the season wouldn’t get 4 weeks longer if you paused club footy for a mid-season rep period, because you would get rid of split rounds.
              Add 3 weeks, subtract 2, leaving 1 extra week. No drama.

              P.S. Enjoy your articles; keep it up!

              • Columnist

                June 21st 2017 @ 9:04am
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 21st 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

                Good call Andy P! And thanks for your support – really appreciate it.

      • June 20th 2017 @ 10:17am
        Boz said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        I agree Barry. While it was a good game, a lot of the others were woeful.

        • Roar Guru

          June 20th 2017 @ 10:56am
          Epiquin said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          We get woeful games in other times during the year too.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 8:37am
      Jimmmy said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      Mary, you raise some interesting points. Next year one game will be stand alone with the other two as per normal. I feel this is a good way to gauge how the stand alone approach is accepted and what affect it has on crowds and TV audience.
      The trick is to improve the scheduling WITHOUT killing Origin. Origin is a crown jewel of the game. It really is a sporting phenomenon and if it is diminished so is the game.
      As for the weekend games , I couldn’t agree more with you. I have always thought too much is made of the absence of Origin players. Melbourne and the Cows just dealt with it as did the Sharks. I loved watching the future unfold on Saturday. I quickly made sure that Brodie Croft was a QLDer . He is dead set Cooper Cronk clone . We just keep on producing them up here.

      • Roar Guru

        June 20th 2017 @ 10:57am
        Epiquin said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        100% agree Jimmmy Origin scheduling is a mountain made out of a molehill.

        • June 20th 2017 @ 12:44pm
          Boz said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

          I daresay that if you polled Rugby League fans, the majority if those would say the current scheduling around Origin is an issue for them.

          • Roar Guru

            June 20th 2017 @ 2:28pm
            Epiquin said | June 20th 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

            Yeah but that’s the thing, believing it is a problem and it actually being a problem are not the same thing.

            At the risk of sounding elitist, I’ve found that a lot of League fans will simply parrot what the media says. A lot out outlets will push this argument because the controversy drives up clicks. Coaches complain about scheduling because they are required to look after their club, not the fans or the game. Players complain because they want as much money for as little work as possible (as we all do).

            Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the current solution is perfect, but it’s the best proposed economic solution that minimises opportunity cost. What we gain from Origin far outweighs what we lose by releasing players for 2 games.

            • June 20th 2017 @ 2:54pm
              Boz said | June 20th 2017 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

              Believing it is a problem is the issue. Perception is reality, no matter whether that perception is factual or not.

              • Roar Guru

                June 20th 2017 @ 4:09pm
                Epiquin said | June 20th 2017 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

                Well if you make large-scale changes based on a perceived problem they can lead to a much bigger actual problem with serious consequences.

          • Columnist

            June 20th 2017 @ 7:43pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 20th 2017 @ 7:43pm | ! Report

            I would say probably 90%.

    • Roar Guru

      June 20th 2017 @ 8:42am
      Rellum said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      I can completely understand this fan frustration. If you pause, can you think of any other professional sporting league in the world where its national competition is disrupted for six weeks a year for a game that has no real meaning?

      Are you baiting us with that?

      • Columnist

        June 20th 2017 @ 8:43am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        What’s a Tuesday without a bit of baiting, Rellum! 😛

        • June 20th 2017 @ 11:45am
          Albo said | June 20th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          I too think the SOO scheduling is way over hyped as a problem ! Try one of the worlds greatest ” National Sporting Competitions ” like the EPL . The top teams in England play in the one season a 38 round premiership, play a League Cup knock out Series, the FA Cup knockout series, and the top 6 sides from the previous season play in European competitions all during the normal season . Manchester United played 65 matches last season ! Back to our SOO “scheduling issue”, there is no better solution available without extending the playing season or reducing the completion premiership matches , by dropping clubs or limiting the playing of each team twice. All of which will create more anger from different sectors. Nope ! There is nothing wrong with the current format from my perspective. Those clubs that have the benefit of having all the best players can surely miss them for a game or two during Origin period. Most players back up anyway , and the bye allocation often see clubs with Origin stars minimally impacted. The SOO is the jewel in the Rugby League crown with a proven financial benefit to the code in its current scheduling format. My only disappointment is that they don’t play full rounds of NRL throughout the series so my weekends can be full of footy too. But I guess I can put up with that to keep others from whinging every year about “unfairness” of having all the best players in the game not available for the odd game !

          • June 20th 2017 @ 12:50pm
            Boz said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

            The EPL is a poor comparison. While their players are very aerobically fit, their bodies don’t go through the same punishment as a Rugby League player. The EPL has no salary Cap. The big clubs, who usually are in the Champions League and progress further in the cup competitions, can buy and stockpile players to give other players a rest when needed.

          • Columnist

            June 20th 2017 @ 7:45pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 20th 2017 @ 7:45pm | ! Report

            And in your comment is another weird thing – that SOO is considered the jewel of the NRL calendar. I still think it’s a shame rep footy isn’t seen in this light.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 20th 2017 @ 9:16am
      At work said | June 20th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      While the Origin period may give youngsters a go at making their case for first grade, it shouldn’t be at the expense of the fans and the clubs position on the ladder.

      Apparently the Storm v Cowboys was the best pre-sold match for Melbourne all season, I wonder if those people realised they were paying for a match without the top players.

      Next season is a step in the right direction with one of the games being on a stand alone weekend, but it needs to move to all three.

      Origin can often mean the difference between making the top 8 or top 4 for some clubs, that’s just not acceptable.

      • June 20th 2017 @ 9:53am
        bbt said | June 20th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        It was the best pre-sold match of the season because it was played at a reasonable time. Also it was well marketed with the various multicultural food stands and multicultural events as well, which made it a whole afternoon festival.

      • Roar Guru

        June 20th 2017 @ 10:59am
        Epiquin said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

        I doubt they cared when they got to watch exciting players play exciting football.

        • Roar Rookie

          June 20th 2017 @ 11:53am
          At work said | June 20th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

          I think they definitely would have cared, they missed watching 2-3 future immortals run around, instead got half a reserve team on the field.
          It was nice compensation that the game was exciting, but it’s not fair value for the price of tickets being sold at the same rate as any other weekend.

          • June 20th 2017 @ 12:05pm
            Jimmmy said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

            I can only judge by the crowd reactions during the game. They loved it as did the Sharkies fans . Don’t let facts spoil your story. An exit poll would have been enlightening. My guess 90% positive.
            I am a Cows fan. We lost but I loved it.

            • Roar Rookie

              June 20th 2017 @ 2:38pm
              At work said | June 20th 2017 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

              Well I didn’t like the Dragons performance in attack yesterday and we were missing two origin players.

              May not have won, but would have put in a better performance for sure.

          • Roar Guru

            June 20th 2017 @ 2:26pm
            Rellum said | June 20th 2017 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

            So should Gold Coast fans ask for their money back because so many players are missing through injury? They are missing out on seeing the star players. Their entertainment demands not being meet.

            • Roar Rookie

              June 20th 2017 @ 2:35pm
              At work said | June 20th 2017 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

              Come on Rellum you’re talking about injuries which are a totally different situation to this, where the NRL have purposely allowed teams to go without their best players.

              • Columnist

                June 20th 2017 @ 7:46pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 20th 2017 @ 7:46pm | ! Report

                I’m with you on this one at work.

              • Roar Guru

                June 20th 2017 @ 10:42pm
                Rellum said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:42pm | ! Report

                It is exactly the same situation, you talk about people paying good money to see the best players play. If they are injured then they don’t see them, so by your logic they should be questioning the value of that ticket. It is just your perceived values and bias which leads you to value certain losses as acceptable and certain ones to be less so. It shows which games you think have value and which don’t. A player being injured playing for your club is loss but an acceptable one. Your player missing games to go play Origin or getting injured playing origin is not.

                Of course players missing games because they are injured is just part of the game but so is players playing rep footy.

                One thing no one seems to mention is that re players take their game to a higher level playing rep footy, and they bring that back to the NRL and therefor raise the standard of the comp and the players around them. If we didn’t have rep footy, the club games would be poorer for it.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 10:45am
      Neale Webb said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      True, SOO time gives rookies the chance to show their stuff, but it is still a skewed competition at this time.
      This may not be an original idea, however, why not compensate those teams playing in a regular round without their Origin players by using some form of handicap system, eg, the team with Origin players missing would start the game with, say, on point for every Origin player missing from the team. Something along those lines, anyway.

      This would allow the weekly comp to continue during SOO time with some semblance of a level playing field.

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