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What would you do if State of Origin was on your watch? Seriously, the behemoth cash cow couldn’t fit through the gate even if it wanted to watch itself.
No line-in-the-sand contest is fiercer but the one vein popping treasure that separates Origin is its link to treason across blurred boundaries.
That yarn about Arthur Beetson flicking the Origin switch with a thump to the head of Eels teammate Mick Cronin is well known, but it was his allegiance to the Blues’ brew-king Tooheys as its twist-tops poster boy that left me frothing.
Then years later it was Artie’s opening night rival Tommy Raudonikis who plonked Allan Langer in the Blues’ path. Combine these and more with interstate floggings and those who’ve betrayed their state of birth and it’s no surprise the blisters of Origin rivalry burn deeper than granddads smuggled port.
Back when sharing Origin spoils seemed scripted a mate of mine landed a dream gig in Coca-Cola sales and as far as rorts without brown paper bags go, it was one of the best.
Thankfully the fizzy-mix didn’t accompany every mid-week phone call where I was greeted by the swoosh of his driver – I’d still be shackled to a dentist chair. But back then, punters simply didn’t need to be reminded to consume Coke – they just did.
And so it is with Origin, even after more than a decade of one sided contests, record numbers confirm the concept has never tasted better. So with the turnstiles on auto spin as TV-suits jam their vault, there’s never been a better time for the golden child to hit the road and cut rugby league a larger slice of the sporting landscape.
Already there’s talk 100,000 could fill the MCG for next year’s opener – 28 years after a windswept Olympic Park hosted the first of Melbourne’s eight Origin matches. And even though the Storm surfaced without roots, what can’t be downplayed is the role Origin played in attracting the city’s formative support base.
Further west and it seems incomprehensible that the Sandgropers once towered above Victorian league. But in 2019, Perth finally gets a pin on the Origin map – more than 20 years after the defunct Western Reds slayed Brian Smith’s Dragons on debut at the WACA.
For WA fans, the new Gabba-on-roids 60,000 seat stadium promises to make the wait worthwhile and you can sense the NRL’s excitement as the Western Force teeter and expansion calls grow louder.
So there it is, rugby league packaged like a Four’n’Twenty with soft drink enticer. And if done right when the thirsty masses return they’ll happily shell out for the freebie too.
With the home front sorted, is there room for Origin to ignite global expansion? I say there’s plenty – loads more than the unoccupied space inside Wayne Bennett’s jacket.
Other codes have already planted their best. Rugby diehards didn’t cry selfish when the Bledisloe Cup boarded the plane for Hong Kong or the All Blacks tackled Ireland in Chicago, even the AFL took a premiership game to China this season.
But before we choose a new port then crash through a fuzzy congratulatory banner marked ‘GENIUS’, let’s step back and understand the destructive powers of expansion in reverse.
To feel the vibe, first spare a moment and think Baggy Green, then the Don and now Lord’s. Just a few of cricket’s cherished gems. Now imagine the hysteria and irreparable damage to the game if Steve Smith led an Ashes boycott.
Such absurdity will inevitably fall to common sense. As if the national team skipper wants his name smeared with greed across Test cricket’s most prestigious tradition – a blot of that magnitude only happens in rugby league.
And to force the point, next time you thumb past Luke Ricketson in the social pages remember this; not only was the long-time retired Rooster the first to play 300 games but he still holds the gong for last try scored in an Ashes contest.
That was way back in 2003! On the 20th and last Kangaroo tour and 95 years after the first in a tradition that gave the code a legitimate global presence.
The English game has suffered in the years since through escalating debt as Australia counts local riches while paying token respect to internationals through the subdivision of NRL talent into Pacific origins.
For a forgotten generation of players like Cameron Smith who’ve been denied the opportunity there’s little solace in knowing the feelings of stars like Gorden Tallis who once described Kangaroo tour selection as the biggest thing a player could do in our game.
Finally after countless Australian knockbacks, in 2020 the Kangaroos will once again depart these shores to defend the Ashes.
Meanwhile, England continue to push the envelope of a tough market with confirmation Wigan and Hull FC will play for competition points next year in Wollongong – the first Super League match to be hosted outside of Europe.
It’s a massive effort from a nation crying for the attention of a revered colleague. And after years of neglect, the least Australia could do is stretch Origin’s boundary all the way to Wembley on a card that includes a Wigan versus Leeds blockbuster.