Origin scheduling lets the young guns shine

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By , 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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