When I grew up in the eighties the players selected to play for the Blues were the best of the available cattle.
While there has always been controversy over specific selections, it seems to me that in the past we were at least assured that the players chosen were the best available in their respective positions.
However, as I read through articles and opinion pieces and blogs, I keep coming across this rare and mythical beast, known as a player of “Origin Material”.
Reading through the comments accompanying the Sydney Morning Herald article announcing the Blues team, no fewer than 12 commenters used the term “Origin Material” to refer to a player that they either favoured or disliked.
Now, the first time I heard this term was around five years ago and I must admit that I had no idea what it meant. What is a player of “Origin Material”? Who defines it? What qualities does a player of “Origin Material” have that another player does not?
My opinion is that the notion of a player being of “Origin Material” is rubbish as it leads to selectors applying their own pre-conceived notions and prejudices to the task of selecting the Blues team – when of course what we should be doing is simply picking the best players in each position.
I’ll explain what I mean.
Before getting into the Blues players, consider Queenslander’s Ashley Harrison. I like Harrison – ok, so he’s not the toughest or biggest player around. Nor does he inspire fear in his opposition.
But Mal Meninga and Co. know exactly what they’re getting every time they select him to play for the Maroons – utter professionalism, heavy workload, will tackle his heart out. That’s why he’s played 14 Origin games for Queensland.
However, I put it to you that if Ashley Harrison was a New South Welshman, it’s unlikely that he would have been selected to play even a single Origin game.
Why do I say that? Well, simply because I think Harrison would have been labelled by Blues fans and commentators as “not of Origin Material”.
I would add other names to the list (some now Queensland legends) like Billy Moore and Gary Larson – unfashionable players who nevertheless excelled when they put on a Maroons jersey.
I’m pretty sure that the Queensland selectors don’t have a pre-conceived idea of what a bloke has to be to qualify as an “Origin Player”. They simply pick whoever they think is the best in their position. Simple as that.
Now to NSW: some of the players who have been labelled as “not of Origin Material” over the last few years have included Robbie Farah, Nathan Merritt, John Sutton, Brett Morris, Mitchell Pierce and Jamal Idris. I’m sure you could name more.
Now if you don’t think that any of those players should (or should not) be picked to play for Origin, that’s fair enough – but please give a valid reason. Saying that he’s “not of Origin Material” doesn’t cut it.
Take Robbie Farah for example. I have probably heard the term “not of Origin Material” applied more to Farah than any other player.
The reasons given by Farah’s detractors included: he’s not as tough as Ennis; he doesn’t have the mongrel that Ennis brings to games; Ennis is a niggler and can get under the skin of the Queenslanders, whereas Robbie can’t.
Never mind the fact that Farah has arguably been a superior number nine than Ennis for at least the last three years.
Never mind that he has a stronger and more incisive kicking game than Ennis, or more skill and creativity than Ennis, or a greater ability to read the play and direct his team around the park than Ennis.
All that didn’t matter as Farah was considered to be “not of Origin Material”.
Of course Robbie was selected for the Blues last year and he excelled, including one man of the match performance.
So it seems that he is now of “Origin Material” after all. Ditto Brett Morris – when he was first selected he was labelled to be “not of Origin Material” (because of his perceived attitude), but like Farah, he’s also convinced us that he too can hack it.
Confusing matters are players like Jarryd Hayne – I recall leading up to last year’s series that Hayne’s poor form was forgiven because he’s an “Origin Player” and is that other rare beast, “A Big Game Player”.
So this sort of thing works both ways.
I can’t help but think that part of the problem with our selections in recent times is that the selectors have such a specific and ingrained idea of what an Origin player should look like.
Rather than selecting players based on current form, they select the team based on fitting into a pre-conceived “box”. If they don’t fit into that box, the player is simply discarded.
It’s time that we did away with this foolish notion of “Original Material” and selected players on merit.