Over the years we’ve seen some spectacular plays in rugby league, and since we’re closing in on the first State of Origin match of the year, I thought we could reminisce about a few moments that have a personal touch for each of us.
Each year we have the standard highlights for each introduction to the big event. From a Queensland point of view these are the ‘miracle try’, Gorden Tallis versus Brett Hodgson and an ageing Wally Lewis going the whole way.
New South Wales have Michael O’Connor kicking the winning goal from the sideline. Mark McGaw touching down in the final minute in 1987 to break Queensland hearts and Wayne Bennett giving it the big, “Oh No!” from the stands. And what about the Joey Johns masterclass in 2005? It was full of brilliance.
There are hundreds more of these moments, but I want to know about the small actions, the one per centers no-one talks about that live in your memory. Let’s head your special Origin moment.
I remember my first live Origin experience. My Dad brought me down from far north Queensland to Game 3, 1989, to sit under the old Lang Park scoreboard. You know the one, on which ‘TRY’ came up in italicised red letters. That scoreboard predates the electronic ones we know today. It was made up of what seemed like thousands of little red and black balls that clicked between colours to make up the animation we remember today.
Of that game I have two memories. Peter Jackson was my favourite player, and when he came off the bench I was 80 metres away and awestruck. There were no outstanding plays from the great man that day, but in his passing I feel privileged to have seen him play live just once.
The second memory is all about Rowdy Shearer. Michael Hagan went for the downtown kick right towards where we were sitting and Rowdy was off. Like a kelpie after a stray, he battled Chicka Ferguson to collect the rolling ball score right in front of us.
Looking back, I guess we were lucky. That night was a high-scoring game that Queensland won, and Lang Park was heaving. The TV coverage may give more detail, but from that day on I was a live footy fan.
For years I purported that if Queensland could have any New South Wales player, it would be Brad Clyde. He was the one per center and he was the 100 per center.
He was a big man with the motor of an old Land Rover. In the days of Paul Sirronen and Blocker Roach destroying the opposition with their size and power, Brad Clyde just didn’t stop.
In 1994 Clyde opened the scoring by supporting Benny ‘the Devil’ Elias harassing the Queensland kicker. What we don’t highlight is that it was the fifth tackle and he had every right to turn and follow the kick.
However, Benny rushed Langer to force a pass, which he intercepted. Always in play, Clyde made up 20 metres to be in position to accept the pass, then broke the tackle with his long stride and powered 40 metres downfield to put New South Wales in beside the posts. This man debuted for Canberra at 18 years old and for NSW and Australia at 19, and it is no coincidence NSW won four of six series with this bloke in the team.
As much as you would love to be at every origin match, ensuring TV coverage is a must. In July 2008 I was in Hawaii for the final game, the decider of the series. If you have ever been to Honolulu, you would know there are dozens of sports bars with every sport you can imagine and none of which have ever heard of rugby league, let alone State of Origin, which was due to be played at 12am.
The one manager who had the slightest inkling of league sadly let us know they had bands play each night and all TVs were switched off. Accepting the fact we would miss this one, we decided a bit of live music was a good way to finish our holiday.
At About 11:30pm I was at the bar for another refresher, and there was a familiar sight on the small TV behind the bar: it was the dressing sheds of NSW! I spoke to the manager we had spoken to earlier that afternoon to have the TV moved to near where we were sitting – on silent of course; there’s a band playing
As we were sitting beside a window with the TV visible from outside, our small group of four swelled to 15 people, mostly dressed in blue and maroon jumpers within minutes of kick-off. It turns out Hawaii has a strong Australian army presence and all these fellas were searching for the game just as we had been.
It was a game for the ages. There was a fight in the second minute and then Matt Cooper crossed first, but Israel Folau responded not too long after that. When Folau played Superman over Anthony Quinn to catch and score that cross kick, we lifted the roof off the place and stopped the band cold. The NFL has some spectacular catches for touchdowns but now in a crowd of over 50 with multiple TVs, we had to explain to the Americans that we have to ground the ball to score.
It was unbelievable, but for a few penalty goals that was the last try for nearly 50 minutes. The game was tense, there were fights and Johnathan Thurston gave it the ‘show and go’ past Brett White and put Billy Slater under the posts for the winning try. Needless to say, we stayed on for a few, but to share that experience with our service men and women and to take over a bar in Hawaii was an Origin moment that will stay with me forever.
Over to you, Roarers. What special Origin moments remind you of how special these three annual games are?