So State of Origin is finally back on the agenda. Maybe it’s all a token gesture from the AFL. Maybe, as I pondered last week, they just want to distract us from other stories currently in the news. Either way, it’s on the agenda – all that’s missing is a plan to make it work.
Many theories as to how it may work have been thrown around.
But the problem is most either exclude the lesser represented states, involve some kind of merged or “All Stars” side or, alternatively, involve all states but are drawn-out competitions that would be taxing on players.
Learning from the latter years of Origin’s previous existence, anything “taxing on players” doesn’t sound like it could work long term. At any rate, “drawn-out competitions” would take a chunk out of the footy calendar that would be bound to cause angst among clubs.
So a different solution is needed. A solution that embraces any state that wishes to enter – without being drawn-out or taxing on players.
It is possible. Here’s how it would work.
When Origin returns for the first time, each state would be given a seed. Victoria would be the first seed, Western Australia (currently) the second, followed by South Australia then Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory in whichever order is deemed appropriate.
To begin with, the first seed will play the second (call it the “first division” if you will), the third will play the fourth (the second division) and finally the fifth will play the sixth (the third division). The last seed will sit out for now.
Those three games would be played, and the results would determine the matches for the next season in which Origin is played.
So, the winner of the first division game would remain in the first division, while the loser would be relegated. The winner of the second division game would move up, the loser would move down. The same would apply for the third game, with the winner going up, however the loser would then sit out and be replaced by the team that sat out the first time around.
It’s essentially a promotion and relegation system.
The purpose behind using such a system, as suggested earlier, would be to involve all states without a long drawn-out format – but there are more advantages than that.
This plan does not require players to play more than one game in a season. Even then, there is the potential to hold it every second year, again reducing the impact on players. Better still, it would even be possible to space the three games across two years, meaning Origin would still have an annual presence despite players not having to front up annually.
The promotion and relegation plan would also mean the possibility of states like Tasmania coming up against those with a higher proportion of AFL players would still remain. (You can’t tell me this team wouldn’t fancy their chances of claiming an upset.)
As for which part of the year it would be held, mid-season (given the troubles of the past) is out of the question. However that still leaves post-season (if clubs don’t complain about International Rules, why would they have an issue here?) and pre-season (which has been talked about as the favoured option).
Either would be suitable. Pre-season would probably see a higher number of players being available.
I’ve written several times on why Origin should return. At the heart of this argument is that the issues that killed off Origin over a decade ago aren’t quite as relevant today.
For example, while the national competition enabled West Australian and South Australian fans the chance to see “their boys” each week, fast forward to today and support in those states is divided, plus players are becoming more dispersed around the country thanks to expansion.
But it’s more than that. The one advantage other codes hold over the AFL lies in having a genuine form of representative football. Having another product on the table during the next round of broadcast negotiations can only help the game exact another big return.
The return of State of Origin football is long overdue. It just needs a plan, and a willingness from those in power to follow through on that plan.
AFL STATE OF ORIGIN PLAN IN SUMMARY
– 1st seed v 2nd seed (Possibly Vic v WA)
– 3rd seed v 4th seed (SA v Tas)
– 5th seed v 6th seed (Qld v NSW)
– 7th seed sits out (NT)
– All losing sides are relegated to the match below them
– All winning sides are promoted to the match above them
– Winner of 1v2 stays on top
– Loser of 5v6 sits out, while the 7th seed moves up
– The same system of promotion and relegation continues
– Avoids a long drawn-out knockout format
– Less taxing on players than other options
– Does not have to be played annually
– May even be spread out over two years (ie, lesser two games one year, 1v2 the next)