We’re not even one month into NRL season 2019 and already it’s almost impossible to watch or listen to a game without hearing about this year’s State of Origin series.
After just a fortnight, it looks like a year of promising young stars, popular teams dragging themselves back to relevance after long periods of mediocrity, and perhaps milder referee bashing than we’ve recently seen.
Yet rugby league’s biggest money spinner just keeps casting its shadow over the competition.
Kalyn Ponga’s switch to five-eighth from fullback for Newcastle is being assessed for whether it could work for Queensland, not how it helps the Knights.
Tevita Pangai Jr has been massive for Brisbane, but all the talk is about how he can play for New South Wales and also represent Tonga (that’s a whole other story).
Andrew Johns is sizing up anyone who does something moderately good on the field for a blue jersey.
Maroons assistant coach Justin Hodges and his former Broncos co-captain Corey Parker are discussing how the Queensland side should line up.
After two games.
The fans aren’t talking about Origin. We’re barely starting to pick our way through the regular stuff.
We want to see if Paul McGregor can pull his badly listing St George Illawarra Dragons back on track, if the Parramatta Eels are the genuine article, and how many ‘strategic’ penalties the Melbourne Storm can give away with impunity.
We want analysis and discussion of how our team is shaping up, not about one player’s chances of a representative selection.
I understand the iconic three-game series is the be-all-and-end-all for some out there (particularly television executives and newspaper editors), but it’s March. We’ve barely started.
Don’t take this the wrong way – I love Origin. I love watching it, I love talking about it and I love writing about it.
I don’t have a side, but I’ve loved watching it since the players were using the bumblebee-striped balls. It’s the envy of Australia’s sporting codes, putting the cream of ‘local’ talent on display during primetime in an intense, high-stakes environment that draws eyeballs from across the globe.
It’s a great part of the season and you’d better believe I’ll be working over The Roar’s editors with a stack of Origin content…
Just not yet.
This season has already thrown up issues worth discussing.
Games aren’t being played at the Sydney Football Stadium, which might lead to a dip in the overall average attendance and poorer quality play on the ordinary surfaces at the alternate venues.
The expansion versus relocation debate is gathering long-overdue momentum.
There’s finally been definitive action taken against players charged with serious offences and there’s a tiny, tiny inkling that maybe some progress could be made in examining the role of player agents in salary cap rorting.
And that’s just off the field. on-field, the game is getting better and better.
The competition struggles enough for relevance during the two months of Origin media saturation and it’s not a good thing to be getting pushed out of the spotlight earlier and earlier each year. There are plenty of big stories to follow right now and more will arise.
It doesn’t help that both NSW and Queensland coaches Brad Fittler and Kevin Walters are part of television match coverage, but I’m not calling for them to be gone. A man’s gotta earn a living.
But surely their colleagues can think of more pressing questions about the game in front of them rather than what one try or missed tackle has done to a particular player’s State of Origin chances?
My forlorn hope is that the wider NRL media can hold off until squads are announced before they start rolling out their annual ‘Origin ticket sales/selections/referee selections/TV ratings in crisis’ pieces, updated for 2019.
State of Origin Game 1 is on Wednesday, June 5 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. June 5 is a long way away. Ten weeks, in fact. 70 days.
How about we give the NRL competition a bit of air to breathe before it yet again gets completely sidelined?