That’s right. You heard me: State of Origin belongs to Queensland.
So while New South Welshmen are all excitedly talking up the chances of their team in 2017, digging out their electric blue fright wigs and drinking tops, it is time to speak the plain truth. In the grand scheme of Origin, the role of the New South Wales team and its supporters is to play the part of the constantly foiled bad guy to the Queensland heroes.
Like Doctor Claw to Inspector Gadget; Gargamel to the Smurfs; Boss Hog to the Duke Boys; Skeletor to He-Man; Bert to Ernie; Frank Grimes to Homer Simpson – and the never ending host of guys dressed up as monsters or ghosts to those meddling kids in the Scooby Doo Gang – the enduring role of New South Wales is to be defeated by the forces of righteousness.
And it is a role they perform so well.
“I’ll get you next time, Queensland! Next time!”
However, even when New South Wales do beat the Maroon horde it is only ever a blip between eras of Queensland dominance, akin to “to be continued” at the end of an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man where it looks like Steve Austin will finally be vanquished, or Batman when the Caped Crusader and Robin were about to get sliced by the giant saw.
You know that at the end of next week’s episode everything will be resolved and return to normal.
And I don’t say this just because Queensland has held the shield aloft twice as many times as NSW.
I say it because Origin was created because of Queenslanders, made into fierce contests by Queenslanders, and virtually every great act in the face of adversity since its inception in 1980 has been performed by Queenslanders.
For a starter, State of Origin was proposed by Queenslanders because the interstate games had become farcical, humiliating affairs. In the decade before the first State of Origin game was played there were 33 games between the NSWRL and the QRL. New South Wales won 28 of them and there were two draws.
Queensland won just three times. Why? The NSWRL clubs had more money to pay players because of their poker machines and the great revenue stream they provided. The best QRL Players duly went to ply their trade in the NSWRL.
Once they were playing in the Sydney comp they became a NSW player by default. As a result the likes of Roma-born-and-bred Queensland champion Arthur Beetson ended up in Sky Blue playing the Maroons.
The constant losses to NSW, mixed with watching their own take to the field against them saw the seed of the Origin concept propagate and grow. Pushed by reporter Hugh Lunn, businessmen Barry Maranta and Wayne Reid, and headed by QRL chairman Ron McAullife, the first Origin match was scheduled as an exhibition in 1980.
Bob Fulton declared that the game would be “the non-event of the century,” as the Sydney media heaped scorn upon the concept. Ron Casey, writing in The Mirror, said “To the Queensland hillbillies in Premier Joh’s Bananaland, the State of Origin match might be a big deal, but to those in the land of the living, here in Sydney, it’s just another match without much meaning.”
New South Welshmen can be incredibly arrogant and patronising, accompanied by a charmless dismissive superiority. When you are on the receiving end of that it can make your blood boil. The likes of Fulton and Casey ensured that the fire was well and truly lit in the hearts of the Queensland players and their supporters.
When 35-year-old Arthur Beetson came in swinging at Graeme Wynn in the first half of Origin 1 in defence of his diminutive halfback, he was declaring that the boys in Maroon would not be taking a backward step. That this game mattered. That Queensland would no longer accept being the whipping boy of the New South Welshmen. Like William Wallace centuries earlier, he was crying “FREEDOM!”
The game was accordingly ferocious and willing. Queensland slowly eked out a lead and kept building it. In the last ten minutes the desperate New South Welshmen threw everything at the Queensland line but, inspired by the parochial Lang Park crowd of 33,000 chanting “QUEENSLAND, QUEENSLAND, QUEENSLAND,” the Maroons held their ground and their nerve, and won the first ever Origin game 20-10.
NSW had played their part and lost. The force was strong in these Queenslanders. But surely the Empire would strike back.
In 1981 the boys in baby blue seemed to have the match won when leading 15-0 with ten minutes left of the first half. However, the Queenslanders staged a stirring fight back to score 22 unanswered points and take the game. The Lang Park crowd was once more in raptures.
“You may have won this round Queensland but I’ll be back and you’ll be sorry!”
This was becoming an embarrassing trend for the NSWRL, whose obvious superiority was now being openly questioned by these banjo playing hicks from north of the wall. They had to be put in their place.
How New South Welshmen hated those impetuous Queensland upstarts, especially that Wally Lewis. How they wanted him beaten and broken. Forced to declare his allegiance to the NSWRL and an end brought to his northern rebellion.
However, that didn’t mean their primary motivation was love for New South Wales. It just means they hated Queensland. As Yoda sagely told us, “Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering.”
And lord how New South Welshmen – players and supporters alike – have suffered.
While there were certainly some victories along the way (the first series win in 1985, the 1986 whitewash and Michael O’Connor kicking the winning conversion from the sideline in Origin II 1991), for the most part the Queenslanders have had the great, stirring victories.
While the first two games laid the basis for the rivalry going forward, for me the greatest moment in the history of State of Origin unfolded in Game 2 of the 1989 series.
Queensland had blown NSW away in Game 1 to the tune of 36-6. However, in Game 2 at the Sydney Football Stadium they were hit by major adversity. Eighteen minutes in half back Alan Langer’s leg was broken in a tackle and he was replaced by Michael Hagan. Not long after Mal Meninga was forced off with a fractured eye socket. Then Paul Vautin succumbed to an elbow injury. This all before half time.
Just after the break winger Michael Hancock was lost to a shoulder injury. Worse still, lock forward Bob Lindner was playing on a fractured ankle.
Surely the game was gone. The Queenslanders had every excuse to lie down.
But they didn’t.
“QUEENSLANDER!” was the rallying cry to hold the line.
“QUEENSLANDER!” They exhorted each other to not give in and show these New South Welshmen that men from north of the border were made of stern stuff.
And then King Wally Lewis – still the best player I’ve ever seen – went on an incredible run to score from 40 metres out and put his side in front 16-6.
New South Wales, sensing an unthinkable defeat, became desperate and ferocious in their efforts.
But still the Queenslander line held. Only when Lindner was finally forced off with five minutes still on the clock did NSW get a consolation try.
Once more NSW played the role of the vanquished side beaten by the underdog.
“Curse you Queensland! I will have my revenge!”
This unlikely Queensland victory drew more strength to the Maroons than ever before. The power of those proud and desperate cries in the cauldron of the Sydney Football Stadium that night became part of the folklore; part of the very essence of the Maroons: “QUEENSLANDER!”
It entreated each of them to stick together and not give up, calling on their pride and love for their State to give them power to keep fighting when all looked lost.
It became their own rebel yell. A call to arms that would strike fear into the heart of their opponents while fortifying their indomitable resolve for the fight.
Nowhere is the fight fiercer between foes than at the front lines and William Bruce Moore was born and raised on that front line. Although born in the Tenterfield Hospital in May 1971, he was whisked back across the border to Wallangarra, Queensland, “before the oxygen had time to affect my lungs.”
The Queensland-New South Wales border divided the town from neighbouring Jennings, NSW and people on either side felt strong allegiances to their side of that line. The Wallangarra Pub had XXXX on tap. In Jennings it was Tooheys. Jennings was twice the size of Wallangarra and there was an assumed superiority that went with that, as well as the resulting rivalry.
When State of Origin began, Young Billy fell in love with his Maroons. He regularly bet on them with his NSW supporter class mates.
“’82, ’83 and ’84 were great. But then came the disaster of 1985 when NSW finally won a series and I couldn’t cover my bets. It wasn’t much fun going cap in hand to mum to bail me out…”
Billy initially played his junior rugby league up the road for Stanthorpe. However, once the meat works closed down there weren’t enough numbers to keep the club going and he had to cross the border to play with Tenterfield. Although his clear talent even from an early age meant that he was a very valued player, there were constant reminders and jibes that, as he was a Queenslander, he was essentially flawed.
Of course his game was anything but flawed and in 1989 he played in the North Sydney Bears reserve grade premiership side. By 1990 he was a first grader.
And in 1992 he was picked to represent Queensland.
When 21-year-old Billy Moore entered his first Origin camp in 1992 his roommate was the late, great Peter Jackson. The legendary centre took it upon himself to ensure that young Billy truly understood what it meant to represent their state.
“Jacko was almost tearing up as he told me that the essential code of being a Queenslander boiled down to three simple things: To always help your mates; to find an answer; and to not make any f@#king excuses.”
Every time a new player is brought in to the Queensland fold this message is conveyed to them with the same sort of passion that Jacko conveyed to Billy that evening. To be a Queenslander means that you are part of a brotherhood that has a sacred duty to carry the immense pride and passion of the state into the fray.
It is a lesson Billy Moore learned very well.
By his own admission, while he was certainly a very good player, Billy wasn’t elite. He relied on his excellent fitness and discipline to keep him competitive at the top level when playing against the likes of Bradley Clyde, Laurie Daley and Brad Fittler.
And he most certainly was competitive. His career record features three games for Australia, 17 games for Queensland and 211 first grade games for his beloved North Sydney Bears.
However, what Billy Moore is remembered for best is one specific moment in one specific game.
In 1995 the Super League war raged as Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch fought over the game’s broadcast rights. Who you sided with mostly – but not exclusively – depended on which way your club went. Billy’s North Sydney Bears ended up being aligned with the Australian rugby league.
The forces that united under Packer had control of the representative arena: the Internationals and State of Origin. It was decreed that no player who had aligned with Super League would be selected for either. As a result Billy Moore and his Bears teammate Gary Larson all of a sudden found themselves as senior Queensland players when Origin One 1995 came around.
There were nine rookies named in the 17-man squad and each had to be brought into the fold. Each had to be taught the lessons that Peter Jackson had taught Billy just three short seasons before.
Like Aragorn trying to inspire his force of old men and kids before the battle of Helms Deep, Billy and Gary had to teach that lesson well – and quickly – as they were up against a star studded NSW side.
Origin 1 was at the Sydney Football Stadium. NSW were unbackable favourites but no one seemed to have told the Queensland side. Courtesy of a 30th minute penalty goal to Wayne Bartrim, the Maroons went into the half time break up 2-0.
However, the mood in the change room was sombre. Had these Queenslanders forgotten what it meant to wear that jumper? Gary Larson told Billy that the boys needed a rev up and to be reminded that they were Queenslanders. That they would help their mates. That they would find an answer. And that they would not make any f@#king excuses.
The two Bears teammates then revved the change room up into a frenzy of chanting “QUEENSLANDER! QUEENSLANDER! QUEENSLANDER!”
“We were all doing it and the passion in the room was amazing,” Moore remembers. “Then one of the best things that ever happened to me occurred: Everyone else shut up except me…”
As Moore exited the change room behind Captain Trevor Gillmeister, Mark Coyne and Gavin Allen, he was the lone voice continuing the chant: “QUEENSLANDER! QUEENSLANDER! QUEENSLANDER!” The live camera in the tunnel captured Moore’s exhortations, his passion.
Every Queenslander watching at home, knowing that their underdog side was right up against it, but still hoping that the tyrants from NSW might still be repelled – no matter how unlikely it was, saw Billy Moore representing them with pride and passion.
Here truly was a great Queenslander. He was still fighting, he was looking for an answer and he would make no f@#king excuses.
When their side went on not just to win the match 2-0 – the only tryless match in Origin history – but also to win the series 3-0, Billy’s place in Origin folklore was assured.
Next Wednesday night Billy will once more run out onto Suncorp Stadium dressed in Maroon and lead the capacity crowd – that will always love and revere him, just as he loves and reveres them – into a pre-match chant.
“QUEENSLANDER! QUEENSLANDER! QUEENSLANDER!”
The stadium will roar with Maroon passion that will be delivered by all with a united passion that New South Wales – try as thy might – has never been able to match, as they sit unhappily in their role of the perennial ugly step-sister.
Because Queensland passion is the embodiment of State of Origin.
Win, lose or draw in 2017, Queensland owns State of Origin.