There are so many great moments in Origin history. But often when these moments happen, other events and the context of the game and series are forgotten.
There have also been experiments and fixtures that rugby league tends to collectively brush over in State of Origin history.
Before the 2017 series commences, it’s worth looking back at some of those moments.
1981 – State of Origin’s fight for survival and surprise omissions
The 1981 game was best remembered for a miraculous Queensland comeback. After being down 15-0, the Maroons scored 22 unanswered points including a penalty try to decide the game in the final seconds when Mal Meninga was held back by Steve Rogers without the ball.
What’s often overlooked is the importance of that game being a thriller. If NSW went on to thrash Queensland, Origin could have died right there and then.
It’s hard to imagine now but before the game, there were calls to scrap State of Origin, with many labelling it a waste of time and an unnecessary representative fixture compared to the Australian Tests.
This doom and gloom about the fixture was also emphasised when two star players were omitted. Arthur Beetson was pulled from the Queensland team at the last minute. He was said to be missing due to an eye injury when in fact he was still quietly seething at having been left out of the Australian squad.
It meant that 21-year-old Wally Lewis took over as captain.
Meanwhile, Steve Mortimer was sensationally replaced at halfback for debutant Peter Sterling.
Lewis stepped up in the leadership role and the never-say-die Queensland spirit was cemented and the State of Origin concept grew legs.
1987 – Taking the game to America
Just three weeks after Queensland wrapped up the 1987 series with a bruising 10-8 win in the decider, the teams headed to Los Angeles for an exhibition Origin match.
Despite it being labelled an exhibition, the match was still given Origin status due to both teams sending full-strength squads. That the match should count towards players’ records is still being debated today.
The Australian Rugby League copped a lot of flak for the one-off game, which New South Wales won 30-18.
It didn’t get off to a great start when Peter Sterling struggled to make it through the banner but he bounced back from the embarrassment with a man-of-the-match performance.
There were rumours that free tickets were handed out but even if that was the case, 12,000 people turning up in America was deemed a success and ARL Chairman Ken Arthurson was quick to trumpet his vision.
“They said we shouldn’t play the game at this time of the year,” Athurson told the Daily Telegraph.
“I’m not delighted to prove the knockers wrong and say I told you so.”
“If you don’t venture out occasionally you’ll never achieve anything.”
It’s easy to say the experiment didn’t work due to the simple fact Americans still don’t know or care about rugby league (except when Russell Crowe references it).
However, it did show that taking Origin out of New South Wales and Queensland was not a terrible idea. This initial USA push no doubt made the decision to take games to Melbourne far easier than it would otherwise have been.
1994 – Martin Bella fluffs his lines
Game 1 1994 will forever be the ‘Mark Coyne match’ featuring one of the greatest calls in rugby league history by Ray Warren. “That’s not a try, that’s a miracle!”
It was another one of those occasions where Queensland won a match they had no right to win.
Martin Bella is one man who’s grateful Coyne stole the show as his comedic moment would have received far more attention than it did.
After taking a tackle from Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley, Bella rose to his feet and, instead of playing the ball to Kevin Walters, he turned around and for a fleeting second became a New South Welshman.
“Maybe he’s seen the writing on the wall and is looking to change sides already Fatty,” Peter Sterling said in commentary.
After 21 Origin appearances, it turned out to be Bella’s last in a Maroons jersey.
If only his play-the-ball moment happened in 2017. Bella would be immortalised in meme form.
1997 – Super League’s strange take on Origin
Super League is a dirty phrase to utter in Australian circles. 20 years ago, the breakaway competition changed rugby league in this country forever.
When we talk about the history of the game, Super League is largely overlooked. Newcastle’s premiership win in 1997 is the one everyone talks about and even fans of the Broncos don’t seem to mention their win over the Sharks in the same year.
It’s the same with Origin.
New South Wales defeated Queensland in the Super League version of State of Origin in a match which lasted 104 minutes – the longest professional rugby league game in history.
Noel Goldthorpe landed the winning field goal.
It was part of a strange tri-series involving New Zealand as the third team. Everyone played each other once.
There are no highlights of the final online and I can’t find any of Game 3 between New South Wales and New Zealand either, which had some major controversy.
I still remember the Kiwi conspiracy being a big news.
Whoever won the game would have the right to play Queensland in the final.
A NSW versus Queensland final was what promoters wanted.
The controversy happened when Sean Hoppe scored a try in the final minutes but he was ruled off side. The Daily Telegraph even drew a line on the back page of the paper to show that call was very harsh.
Needless to say, New Zealand was not happy. The Blues won the game and ultimately the series.
The final might not be recognised as a proper Origin encounter but with the likes of David Peachey, Andrew Ettingshausen, Brett Mullins, Laurie Daley, Darren Lockyer, Kevin Walters, Allan Langer and Gorden Tallis all playing, it’s well worth treasuring the contest, even if it was a Mickey Mouse series.
2002 – Lote Tuqiri handed goal-kicking duties
If 1994 was remembered for Mark Coyne, 2002 will forever be remembered for the rag-doll tackle from Gorden Tallis on Brett Hodgson.
That year, of course, had so much more than that.
Justin Hodges had a shocking debut, but Queensland still won Game 2 to tie the series.
The other interesting storyline was how the Maroons utilised Lote Tuqiri. They initially left him out of the squad so he could plead guilty to a dangerous throw in an NRL game.
It meant that Tuqiri technically served his one-match game on the Friday night and then was allowed to play Origin the following Wednesday. The way Queensland flaunted the rules generated quite a stir
Once Tuqiri was in the side, Clinton Shifcofske made way in the wing position for Hodges. It also meant that Tuqiri had to be the goalkicker.
He had impressed for the Broncos earlier in the season when Michael Devere was out injured. Tuqiri kicked seven goals and scored three tries against the Northern Eagles.
Still, Origin was a different kettle of fish and the pressure on Tuqiri must have been immense when points were at a premium.
He managed to boot three from five in Game 2.
In the decider, he had a much tougher time.
Queensland scored a last-gasp try to tie up the scores at 18-all. Under the rules, there was no extra time and a tied series meant the Maroons retained the shield. Otherwise, Tuqiri would have had a daunting kick to win the game. He missed, but it didn’t matter.
Tuqiri’s one conversion from four attempts was enough on the night, but one can only imagine how much criticism Queensland selectors and Tuqiri himself would have copped if his goalkicking cost the Maroons victory.
It’s one of the many ‘what if’ moments that make Origin so great.
What other moments have been largely overlooked in the last 37-years of this amazing rivalry? Let us know in the comments section.