Every winter, several weeknight games of football seem to involve sledging about cane toads and cockroaches, followed Victorians wanting their chance to stick it up ’em.
As a devoted Australian rules football fan and theatre-goer to the other three codes, I’m going to join in the chorus for the AFL to bring back the original State of Origin.
While Australian rules is the biggest game in the land, its roots are its biggest hindrance – the game is still too niche to expand beyond our shores. It’s no wonder those of us south of the Murray watch with jealousy every time Origin hits our screens or rolls into town.
League Origin works well for several reasons. The first is its simplicity. Every person in the northern states understands two wins out of three mean bragging rights.
Second, given the series is contested by two states that hate each other’s guts, there’s meaning to each game, including last night’s cracking dead rubber.
Finally, the players would crawl over glass for a guernsey. The best nearly always play the best.
Compare this with the various excuses trotted out by the AFL in recent years.
Keeping in line with the AFL’s wishes, the final years of State of Origin bordered on the pathetic. What were the players playing for? Who were ‘the Allies’? Why didn’t the superstars want to play?
It was a far cry from the packed houses hoping to ‘kick a Vic’, or the saddest day in football, where the late Ted Whitten took one final lap of honour as he battled terminal cancer.
I therefore propose an eight-team State of Origin knock-out tournament to be played over a two or three-week period in winter, once every four years. Acknowledging that some sort of break from the premiership season is required, this interruption would be welcomed compared with the rolling byes clubs and fans now despise.
The competition would consist of six state teams, with players representing their ‘state of origin’. In addition, I propose an Indigenous All-Stars side (acknowledging a culture that existed for thousands of years before the states), and a revived Australian Amateurs, comprising the best local talent from across the country.
To balance the competition, the definition of ‘origin’ could be broadened for the smaller states, such as ‘first senior game for a NSW or Queensland-based club’.
This would recreate the reasons why league’s State of Origin works well. An eight-team knockout competition is easy to understand. The lack of international football means state football becomes a rare opportunity. Holding a tournament infrequently means players will be more willing to take an opportunity that arises only every four years (to the relief of the clubs).
Finally, a tournament with an eventual winner has meaning, unlike the glorified exhibition games in years gone by.
Despite the years passing, there is still a sense of pride in pulling on the Big V, Croweater or Sandgroper guernsey, especially for our champions who will never taste premiership glory. Matthew Pavlich may not win a premiership with Fremantle, though he could’ve captained South Australia to a national championship. Nick Reiwoldt missed two opportunities with St Kilda, though a Queensland boilover would be a memory to cherish almost as much.
State of Origin will also provide an excellent opportunity to promote quality football in the northern states, something lacking in Queensland recently. The 1998 game between Victoria and the Allies doesn’t count. The underdog Amateurs even gives a local superstar or retired great one final shot at glory. Imagine the season-long trials for that team!
Importantly, there would be a huge sense of pride for our Indigenous players to play for a team representing the oldest known culture in the world, as the semi-annual preseason Indigenous All-Star games suggest.
In the non-Origin years, the AFL could follow the NRL and stage an All-Stars vs Indigenous All-Stars game before the season proper. It would encourage the spirit of reconciliation as only sport can. It would certainly be a cracking way to open the new Perth stadium as well.
What say you Roarers?