As we approach what will be an exciting third State of Origin rugby league match for 2017, it’s time for a re-think of the concept.
Not because it’s broken, in fact Origin is as strong as ever despite Queensland’s dominance over the past 12 years. The Maroons are going for an 11th series victory in that twelve-year span on Wednesday night, which would be an incredible achievement.
The reason it’s time for a re-think is the impact the series has on the National Rugby League season.
The NRL, one of Australia’s biggest professional sporting leagues, completely takes a back seat for nine weeks, or 35 per cent of the home-and-away season.
Players are forced to sit out for club teams the week before each game and some rightfully so, sit out the game after, some of which are played just two days later.
This year, players such as Cooper Cronk did in a top-of-the-table clash in Round 14, have sat out the game in between as well, up to twelve days before Origin to ensure they are ready to play for their states.
The NRL try and give teams with the most players byes the week before or after Origin, however this is a guess, often ending up with matches being played between teams missing multiple players and teams missing none.
Last weekend the Rabbitohs and Roosters played with the Chooks missing four players and Souths none, while the Storm played the Eels missing six players, more than a third of their team.
They battled manfully but ultimately had no chance.
Some of these end up with a vastly different result than would have been if both sides were at full strength, which compromises the integrity of the NRL ladder.
Then you get games such as the Storm versus Cowboys one recently where both teams are missing multiple players and the teams are virtually unrecognisable.
Players are so desperate to play Origin they will miss all their club games but magically be available for Origin.
Some play when they are clearly injured, often at the expense of the premiership chances of their club teams, who pay the great majority of their wages.
That was just the case in Game 2 this year when Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston played and will now miss the rest of the NRL season. In 2016 Billy Slater did the same and it cost him effectively two seasons and almost cut his career short.
And yet the clubs and fans readily accept it.
You really couldn’t make this up if you tried. No other professional sporting league in the world allows its competition to be so compromised by its representative/all-star game.
Imagine this happening in any of the North American sports? Or a bit closer to home, the AFL.
From 2018, the NRL competition should shut down for three weeks for the Origin series, to played either on a Wednesday or Friday night. To make the space in the fixture, take out the byes and reduce the season to 23 games if necessary.
Or play the series in October after the grand final.
Football has international windows in which club games are often suspended to ensure the best players are always playing and to keep the integrity of the competition intact.
It will give the NRL competition back the focus it deserves as one of the premier leagues in Australian sport.
And not impact on Origin, the goose that lays the golden egg for the game. In fact one could argue by having it as the primary focus of the rugby league world for three weeks would enhance that series as well.
It all just makes too much sense.