I recently had the good fortune to stumble across an Origin ‘Classic’ from the early 90s. As I watched I realised that NSW at the time had one heck of a side.
I couldn’t see a weakness as I watched the likes of Glenn Lazarus, Paul Harrigan, Paul Sironen and Brad Clyde smash the all star Queensland forwards including Darren Fritz, Mike MacLean and Andrew Gee.
Then it occurred to me that we have all seen the ‘greatest ever’ Origin lists, but we have never looked at what is the greatest actual Origin team to ever take the field.
There are four criteria to consider:
1. The sum quality of the careers of the 17 selected,
2. Whether there were any weak links,
3. Actually winning is pretty important, and
4. The quality of the opposition at the time.
The obvious place to start is with the dynasties. After careful thought, I dismissed the Blues current one series ‘dynasty’ as not quite there yet! Three eras stand out:
1. Queensland 1987-1991. Four out of five series wins with two clean sweeps.
2. NSW 1992-1997. Five out of six series with one clean sweep.
3. Queensland 2006-2017. Twelve from thirteen, with one clean sweep.
There could be arguments for Queensland in the early 80s, NSW in the mid 80s and again NSW in the early 2000s.
After trolling through team lists and Origin results, I’ve narrowed it down to sides from four games in particular:
1. Queensland 1989 Game 2
2. New South Wales 1993 Game 1
3. New South Wales 2000 Game 3
4. Queensland 2011 Game 3
Some comments to start off with:
– Coaching makes a difference. Phil Gould’s teams in those dominant eras of the early 90s were not always as full of superstars as one would have thought, but they were all solid players. He may be a bit of a controversial figure now, but he was a great coach. Ditto Wayne Bennett in 2001 with a frankly average team.
– It’s a wonder Queensland won any series in the 90s and early 2000s. Some of their teams were very poor on paper. The worst team might be a good article in itself.
– It was almost impossible to select a single team from the great Queensland streak of 2006-2017. And part of the secret was that the squads were remarkably similar over time, with only one or two changes each year.
Now to the teams (Origins and Tests in brackets):
Queensland 1989 Game 2 – Won 16-12. Series won 3-nil
1. Gary Belcher (15, 16)
2. Alan McIndoe (9,1)
3. Tony Currie (15,7)
4. Mal Meninga (32,46)
5. Michael Hancock (16,13)
6. Wally Lewis (c) (38,34)
7. Allan Langer (37,25)
8. Martin Bella (21,9)
9. Kerrod Walters (7,8)
10. Sam Backo (7,6)
11. Paul Vautin (22,13)
12. Gene Miles (23,14)
13. Bob Lindner (25,22)
Reserves: Dale Shearer, Michael Hagan, Trevor Gillmeister, Gary Coyne.
This was period of absolute dominance for Queensland. From 1987 to 1989 Queensland lost one single game and won eight, including the only back-to-back whitewashes. A brilliant team with Hall of Fame halves, speed on the flanks and a dominant forward pack.
New South Wales 1993 Game 1 – Won 14-10. Series won 2-1 (lost dead rubber)
1. Tim Brasher (21,16)
2. Andrew Ettingshausen (30,29)
3. Paul McGregor (14,3)
4. Brad Fittler (31,38)
5. Rod Wishart (22,17)
6. Laurie Daley (c) (26,26)
7. Ricky Stuart (14,9)
8. Glenn Lazarus (22,22)
9. Ben Elias (22,14)
10. Ian Roberts (11,13)
11. Paul Sironen (14,21)
12. Paul Harragon (20,20)
13. Brad Mackay (17,12)
Reserves: David Fairleigh, Craig Salvatori, Brett Mullins, Jason Taylor
Find me a weakness here. A Brad Clyde injury away from being the perfect team. When Fittler, ET and Harragon have to play out of position you know you have a strong team. Possibly the best forward pack of all time.
New South Wales 2000 Game 3 – Won 56-16. Series won 3-nil
1. Tim Brasher (21,16)
2. Adam MacDougall (11,11)
3. Ryan Girdler (10,14)
4. Matt Gidley (11,17)
5. Jamie Ainscough (12,1)
6. Brad Fittler (c) (31,38)
7. Brett Kimmorley (10,22)
8. Robbie Kearns (9,29)
9. Geoff Toovey (16,13)
10. Jason Stevens (8,22)
11. Bryan Fletcher (14,13)
12. Ben Kennedy (13,16)
13. Scott Hill (5,12)
Reserves: Andrew Johns, David Furner, Adam Muir, Michael Vella
The infamous grenade team. Let’s face it, Queensland were a bit ordinary during this period, but this is still a team that put on 50. Confidence, skills and mobility to burn. And a fairly handy bench player.
Queensland 2011 Game 3 – Won 34-24. Series won 2-1
1. Billy Slater (30,30)
2. Darius Boyd (28,23)
3. Justin Hodges (24,13)
4. Greg Inglis (32, 39)
5. Jharal Yow Yeh (3,3)
6. Darren Lockyer (c) (38,63)
7. Johnathan Thurston (37,39)
8. Matthew Scott (22,22)
9. Cameron Smith (42,56)
10. Petero Civoniceva (33,45)
11. Nate Myles (32,9)
12. Sam Thaiday (29,32)
13. Ashley Harrison (15,-)
Reserves: Cooper Cronk, Corey Parker, Jacob Lillyman, Ben Hannant
And here it is. The best team of the ‘streak’. Headlined by Slater, Inglis, Lockyer, Thurston and Smith with Cronk and Parker on the bench.
So, which is the best of the best. Which team on its day would beat all comers?
As a Queenslander it is hard to go past the Class of 2011, full of (dare I say it) ‘future immortals’. But boy that 1993 New South Wales team would give them a run for their money.
Honourable mentions: Queensland 1984 Game 2, NSW 1996 Game 1, NSW 2005 Game 3 and any Queensland team from 2009 to 2012, plus 2015.
So next time you stumble on an origin classic, remember these legendary teams from the past.