AFL rep footy finally back on the table

Vince Rugari Columnist

By Vince Rugari, Vince Rugari is a Roar Expert

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    It was with tempered optimism that this writer received the news that representative football is finally back on the AFL’s agenda, after 13 years in the wilderness.

    Details are, of course, still very sketchy, but the league’s operations manager Adrian Anderson told The Sunday Mail in Queensland that the door is ajar for a possible return of interstate matches.

    It’s the news many footy fans have been waiting for.

    The fact that AFL House is now willing to discuss the notion of representative football is testament to how loud the calls for it were.

    Anderson said there was clearly an ‘appetite’ for it from the AFL Players’ Association following the recent collective bargaining talks.

    It is true that there is certainly a State of Origin-shaped hole in the hearts of players and supporters.

    But it’s also true that there is no Origin-shaped gap in the footy calendar, and so thus the hard part begins – trying to nut out a way for it to be done properly.

    This debate is hardly new territory. Just about every man and his respective dog has an idea about how it could be done, and yes, I’ll get to mine later.

    But we may as well drop the idea right now if all parties involved are not going to be 100 percent committed to getting it right.

    When interstate football burned out over a decade ago, it was because not everyone was on the same page.

    Clubs were concerned about their star players getting injured. As a result, fans lost interest. The perceived value and, subsequently, the passion for State of Origin waned once the game went national in the 1990s.

    Now in the age of the draft, where teenagers are plucked from their hometowns and flung across the country, clubs are inevitably starting to lose their local flavour.

    We’re happy to accept that. In a way, it mirrors our globalised society. People and cultures are converging.

    At the same time though, the importance of recognising one’s roots remains – and the opportunity to celebrate that lies in wait. We see just how well rugby league has seized that opportunity three times per year.

    NRL State of Origin is a headline-stealing, ratings-dominating, stadium-packing monolith. The fact that Queensland and New South Wales can continually play in front of a full house in Melbourne is proof of that alone.

    If the AFL can package its own representative games in the right way, and deliver it with the same gusto that birthed the two new expansion clubs, then the sky is the limit.

    Few would mourn the loss of the NAB Cup, especially if it was dismantled and replaced with a series of practice matches.

    That could make room for the first of two interstate matches, and what better way to lead into round one?

    The NRL Indigenous All Stars game earlier this year was a terrific spectacle, and if February is good enough for representative rugby league, it should be good enough for the AFL.

    Sure, players are not at their peak fitness, but if the match is played in the right spirit then the drawbacks can be negated, as it was in the NRL All Stars game.

    Another gap could be fashioned in mid-season. If the AFLPA wants State of Origin badly enough then they’ll have to accept that elite players will be busier than usual.

    And if someone goes down with an injury in a representative game? Tough luck. They can also hurt themselves at training, at the beach, at home – anywhere.

    Poor Levi Greenwood fractured his foot a couple of years ago after an argument with his tracksuit pants and a staircase. You can’t tread on eggshells.

    But then there’s another matter – who plays? The Big V is a certainty, but who should they lock horns with?

    For fans outside of Victoria to emotionally invest in State of Origin, the disrespectful concept of a ‘Dream Team’ should be scrapped.

    Bring back South Australia and WA, forget the Allies, and rotate the teams on an annual basis based on success. First up, have Victoria against SA.

    Say Victoria loses the two-game series – then Western Australia takes their place the next year, and so on and so forth. Make each state earn the right to remain.

    There is no doubt the discussion will continue over the coming months, behind closed doors. But please, forgive my enthusiasm – I’m just happy it’s on the table in the first place.

    Vince Rugari
    Vince Rugari

    Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard of the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. A Port Adelaide fan by birth, he now is a sports reporter for Australian Associate Press

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    The Crowd Says (43)

    • March 13th 2012 @ 6:47am
      Kasey said | March 13th 2012 @ 6:47am | ! Report

      I’m skeptical. In AFL footy the ultimate prize is the flag, no a rep jumper as it is in RL, there just isn’t much incentive to put the push for a flag at risk to play rep footy. The AFL can mandate all they like, but a week out, players will pick up mysterious knocks like a sprained eyelash and withdraw from camp, making a mockery of the whole thing. people have short memories, that’s what killed SoO footy in the first place, nothing has changed except the clubs have become even more entrenched. SA no longer needs SoO footy to stick it up the Vics, they follow the Crows and Port for that.

      • March 13th 2012 @ 8:00am
        Lucan said | March 13th 2012 @ 8:00am | ! Report

        Simple fix for that, make it like representative football (soccer).
        If a club refuses to release a player, the governing body can apply a ban so the player needs to sit out their next club match. Should the injury be legit the player gets an extra week to recover, should the club be doing it cynically they need to explain to their membership why their star isn’t playing for the club that following week.

        • March 13th 2012 @ 8:07am
          Kasey said | March 13th 2012 @ 8:07am | ! Report

          Difference is Lcan in football players want to play for their country. Despite what Moaninho says, the World Cup is still a level of prestige above the UEFA CL. I watched an interview with Holger Osieck during Fox’s coverage of the Socceroos WC ph4 draw and he talked about his recent phone conversation with Mark Schwartzer. Osieck said: its okay Mark, you don’t have to come back from London to Melbourne for the Saudi game, I’ll cap Federici. Schwartz apparently stomped that right on the head and said ” hell no, the no1 job is mine and I’ll be there(Melb) come hell or high water” thats 30 hours in a plane just for 90 minutes and the associated jet lag that comes with it. You’ve got to love that our Socceroos still generally really want to play for the country. I know it fills me with pride:)

          • March 13th 2012 @ 8:14am
            Lucan said | March 13th 2012 @ 8:14am | ! Report

            Yet, we continually saw Kewell and Leeds Utd/Liverpool come up with nothing injuries to prevent the ‘Roos selecting him, or getting him to travel.

            That passion can vary player-by-player. Do you think Jonathan Brown would knock back another Victorian guernsey?

            • March 13th 2012 @ 9:11am
              Kasey said | March 13th 2012 @ 9:11am | ! Report

              There’s a world of difference between the will he won’t he era of Kewell’s National team selection and Mark Schwartzer of these days. Kewell’s situation was more complicated than you’ve painted it. Harry was a young up and comer still trying to establish himself in the English top flight. A top flight that had yet to fully embrace its status as a white light to the moths of the international stage. Harry’s manager was the always moaning David O’Leary, who to this day signs African players and moans when they ask to be released for the African Cup of Nations. Schwartzer is fully established in the Cottagers team and is even vice Captain. Fulham FC know they need to keep him happy as he has already expressed a desire to move away and goalkeepers like Schwarzter that can save 10-20 points a season don’t exactly grow on trees, look at Man United’s continued difficulty in replacing Peter Schmeichel still to this day. Overall the general desire of our players to play for the Socceroos is something we should be proud of. I can’t think of the last time a senior player made himself unavailable for the team.

    • March 13th 2012 @ 8:23am
      Australian Rules said | March 13th 2012 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      Not this again.

      Australian Football has evolved beyond Origin and the old colonial rivalries from which the concept was fuelled.

      The AFL is a national competition where the prize is the Premiership…not some exhbition state game.

      Besides, since AFL gave up on Origin, the NRL have developed it into their prize product…meaning that any attempt by the AFL to reinvigorate it would result in it looking B-Grade in comparison. Just leave it alone.

    • March 13th 2012 @ 8:39am
      brendan said | March 13th 2012 @ 8:39am | ! Report

      I understand the sentiment regarding club football being the ultimate in the game.However i do think it is vital for the growth of the game that some form of SOO is introduced at the highest level to help grow the game particularly in the newer areas of the gold coast and western Sydney.Apparently the participation rate among young children for Auskick and junior football is quite high in Western Sydney .So for arguments sake a 15 yr old kid from Parramatta gets selected in the NSW U/16 ‘S does the fact that there is no senior State representative football to aspire too diminish the importance of his selection.I dont follow Rugby League but know enough about the game to realise SOO is fundamental to the collective psyche of the game and would hazard a guess that many senior SOO representatives first wore with pride there state’s colors as juniors and that experience enhanced there aspirations to achieve similiar at the highest possible level.

      • March 13th 2012 @ 8:44am
        Ian Whitchurch said | March 13th 2012 @ 8:44am | ! Report


        No, it’s not. In fact, it’s the reverse.

        You have to deal with the fact that by *definition* as a developing area, they are going to have fewer and therefore worse players.

        You therefore have a bunch of bad choices.

        Do they play Victoria B ?

        Do they allow ring-ins ?

        Do they allow their handful of great players to play for other states to get a game (as to the joke that Australian Rules State of Origin became, I have one and only one thing to say – Jason Dunstall pulled on the big V).

        Dont fix what isnt broken. Australian Rules does not need rep football.

        • March 13th 2012 @ 9:24am
          brendan said | March 13th 2012 @ 9:24am | ! Report

          it isnt me fixing it or breaking it Ian but in principle i agree with it.Yes there were a lot of anomalies in years gone past but i think its going to happen whether you like it or not.Coincidentially we spoke about this yesterday and this article appears South Australia they revere the first side to beat Victoria on the Mcg and who can forget the game at the Scg in the mid nineties where the four Daniher brothers played and inspired Nsw to defeat Victoria.I own an old football book with articles from newspapers going back to the 1880,s and one article in the early twentieth century said that there was a strong Aussie Rules comp in Sydney but the governing bodies of the game in an attempt to unify the rules between the states tried to impose Victorian Rules on the Sydney competition which they resented and the game subsequently died off (correct me if imwrong but i think Rugby League started about this time in a formal competition so maybe all the young blokes played that instead).As an aside i think your assertion that in Cricket you cant have a strong domestic and National competition has been proved incorrect by the Ipl and other forms of twenty / twenty cricket around the world.

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2012 @ 8:45am
      The Cattery said | March 13th 2012 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      State of origin had its time in the mid to late 80s, and then we got the national competition, and everyone lost interest.

      Forget about it – it’s gone.

      • Columnist

        March 13th 2012 @ 9:51am
        Vince Rugari said | March 13th 2012 @ 9:51am | ! Report

        I don’t know if *everyone* lost interest, but the AFL did, and that was key. I’ll argue that it was never nurtured in the same way that NRL SoO was. Had it been given the same amount of time and effort that other AFL efforts receive, then it could have been anything. Still could, IMO.

        • Roar Guru

          March 13th 2012 @ 10:50pm
          The Cattery said | March 13th 2012 @ 10:50pm | ! Report

          not just the AFL – fans, clubs and players lost interest – and coaches were only to happy to oblige (in lobbying to get rid of it).

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2012 @ 8:52am
      Redb said | March 13th 2012 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      I’m a fan of bringing back Origin in some form, but its apparent the clubs would not be supportive. Even when you look at the NAB Cup, the clubs manage the time players spend on the field and rest senior players to suit their training regime despite 10 goal losses on the weekend. The Clubs only care about the Premiership, its both a strength and weakness of AFL football.

      Also the packed houses in Melbourne for RL Origin are 80% NSW and QLDers, its a great tourist event for Victoria but does little to demonstrate Victorians passion for Origin, it’s a different sport. In saying that, AFL fans do envy RL Origin at the time, but they dont see how the regular NRL comp withers on the vine during the 6 week Origin period as the focus shifts to State v State and the best players are out of their club teams. AFL fans would hate their club losing players in crucial games.

      Maybe a State Comp could replace or supplement a smaller NAB Cup pre season.

      • March 13th 2012 @ 9:18am
        Ian Whitchurch said | March 13th 2012 @ 9:18am | ! Report


        If you do that, then how are players going to learn how the coach wants them playing this year, and get enough games into the to be fit in round one ?

        Let alone having brutally underdone players trying to play rep football …

    • March 13th 2012 @ 9:14am
      D.Large said | March 13th 2012 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      My GODS!!! No more State of Origin talk, please.

      No one who follows footy cares, I think that one of the main reasons that it works in the NRL is that the states are fairly evenly matched, in AFL they are not. Victoria will cream both SA and WA every time and I for one as a Victorian couldn’t care less if they do. Its dead, leave it alone.

      • March 13th 2012 @ 9:22am
        Lucan said | March 13th 2012 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        No one who follows footy cares???

      • Columnist

        March 13th 2012 @ 9:34am
        Vince Rugari said | March 13th 2012 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        The players themselves want it. So do most fans. Not sure how you’ve assumed spokesmanship for AFL supporters but there’s certainly a hunger for it.

        • March 13th 2012 @ 10:15am
          D.Large said | March 13th 2012 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          “The players themselves want it. So do most fans.” based on that I am not sure how you’ve assumed spokesmanship for AFL supporters and the players.

          Your making a generalisation about the ‘fans’ and ‘supporters’ like I am, however my experience comes from 20 years of watching and talking about footy as my No 1 sport with people who know what they are talking about.

      • March 13th 2012 @ 10:25am
        Jack Russell said | March 13th 2012 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        Cream SA maybe, but WA wouldn’t have a bad side at all, especially in the talls department. Buddy at full forward, Glass and McPharlin in the backline, Cox and Sandilands rotating in the ruck. Lacking a bit in the midfield, but they’d dominate the air.

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