When commentators start calling for the inclusion of New Zealanders in the series, and they are, they not only display a dullard’s understanding of the concept of ‘origin’, they are noisily admitting the series’ desperate need for rejuvenation.
But to suddenly baptise Benji Marshall a true Blue would be to destroy Origin’s very raison d’etre.
In a sporting universe where players don the colours of the highest bidder, Origin isn’t a choice. It chooses you. You cannot deny your origins. You represent your turf.
And yet, if true, it’s disappointing that Sonny Bill Williams left league because he couldn’t play Origin.
Clearly, with so many of the NRL’s stars now from places outside New South Wales and Queensland, State of Origin is facing a losing battle for premier status.
I’m not for a second delivering State of Origin’s eulogy. It remains the greatest Australian sporting invention in the years since World War II, and has crowds and television ratings that ensure its future.
It is still the recipient of the greatest free-publicity frenzy in Australian professional sport, but ask anyone and they’ll tell you, “It ain’t what it used to be.”
I have just the tonic. It is exciting, elegant and profitable.
Introducing: Origin 2.0: The War in the Pacific.
Here’s the plan; introduce a parallel “Land of Origin” to be played across the Tasman. New Zealand Origin versus Pacific Islands Origin in a three-match series.
The victor plays the winner of State of Origin in a one-off match. The winner of that match is crowned “Pacific Origin Champion”.
The Pacific Islands would consist of the stars from Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and anywhere else in the Pacific that is not Australia or New Zealand.
Suddenly, more than bragging rights would be up for grabs in State of Origin.
The NRL’s best players could represent somewhere other than Australia, and still play Origin, albeit “Land of” rather than “State of”.
Now we have a stage to see the best Pacific Islanders, with so much impact in the NRL, together. The clashes would be titanic, the styles so contrasting.
Rugby League will have revitalised its precious State-based showpiece, and at the same time produced an international series that would be competitive and legitimate in a way the Four Nations, even the World Cup, could never be.
The NRL itself would be fairer. State of Origin puts huge pressure on some clubs, while others ensure a mid-year holiday. This would spread the pain, and the interest.
It would also make Test series fairer. It would mean Australia’s opponents have had a similarly bruising season, and it would make Pacific Island Test sides infinitely more competitive over time.
There would be no such thing as an Origin dead rubber. Instead, you would have a final hitout for “Pacific Origin”.
There is much minutiae that I welcome debate on.
Would the current origin qualification rules work or would they need to be tweaked in some way? If we picked a Pacific Island Origin team today, under current qualification rules, would it be competitive against New South Wales or Queensland?
If Maroons and Blues are cane toads and coackroaches, what would they be called? What would their colours be? I vote yellow and green for the sand and flora of the Pacific. But a strip taking in the national colours of each island may be in order.
Would the entire “Land of Origin” series be played in New Zealand? PNG and the Pacific Islands do not have facilities worthy of such an event. Is that too much of an advantage for the Kiwis? Should Melbourne or Townsville be the Pacific Islanders home?
Here’s a thought; 8pm kickoff in New Zealand is a 6pm kickoff on the east coast of Australia. Could we have an Origin double header?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Step back from what you know and put yourself in the shoes of Lunn, Maranta, Reid, McAuliffe and Humphreys, the Fathers of Origin.
State of Origin was invented because state games were lacklustre and not the main game. These visionaries saw the game needed a new theatre of war. They saw that fans wanted to be represented in a pure and primal way.
These proponents did not agree on every detail but were bold and honest about what was needed to grow. They did not accept the status quo as good enough.
Kiwis and Pacific Islanders are an integral part of modern rugby league. They deserve to share in Origin. They would represent it in a new, pure and primal way.
They will produce new heroes and new enemies, the combatants upon which the Origin legend is built.
A series that calls itself the pinnacle of rugby league but denies New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders the right to compete is lying to its fans.
They know it. That’s why State of Origin needs Land of Origin.
Time to declare war in the Pacific.