Wednesday night saw Queensland and New South Wales battle it out for State of Origin glory.
It’s a format all sports fans love to watch, even if they don’t follow rugby league.
In Queensland and New South Wales, towns and cities are painted in blue or maroon, while even outside of the two states, fans tune in for one of the biggest Australian sporting rivalries.
Over 52,000 people packed Suncorp Stadium for Game One of the three-match series, whilst hundreds of thousands more surrounded their television screens to watch the match unfold.
Despite the fixtures being huge hits every year around Australia, the AFL dumped the State of Origin concept in 1999, and played a one-off exhibition between Victoria and the All Stars to celebrate 150 years of Australian rules football in 2008.
The reasoning behind the cancellation was declining attendance, with the VFL’s ongoing conversion into the national competition being the main issue.
Fast-forward 20 years to 2019, and the AFL is more ready than ever to bring back a State of Origin format to the game.
The bye rounds begin this week, with the 18 teams all missing one of the next three rounds as they get a designated rest. Instead of playing matches for their clubs, players should nominate to play for their state during the byes.
With eight states and territories represented, the AFL could choose one of two routes to reinstate State of Origin football.
Option one is a competition where the eight states and territories (Queensland, Victoria, NSW, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and ACT) play in an elimination-style competition over the three weeks. Such a competition would look something like this.
Victoria vs NSW
Queensland vs Tasmania
Western Australia vs ACT
Northern Territory vs South Australia
Victoria (winner of game one) vs Queensland (winner of game two)
Western Australia (winner of game three) vs Northern Territory (winner of game four)
Victoria (winner of game one) vs Western Australia (winner of game two)
This system would result in a State of Origin champion named every year, and every state would have access to a list of players born in that state who nominate for the exhibition games.
Another potential format would be to have similar sides to the 2008 rehash: Victoria vs the All Stars. This format could be a one-off contest, with a league-wide bye for those who don’t participate in the competition.
This system would be more similar to the NBA All-Star game, where everyone has the weekend off matches and celebrates in the festivities.
While some fans would be upset with the fact there’s only one game of football for the weekend, don’t be discouraged, as the AFL could also schedule the mid-season draft as well as the inevitable mid-season trading period to occur on this weekend.
Not only that, but with major grounds receiving the week off from senior games, the reserve sides can play on surfaces such as the Gabba, SCG, Marvel Stadium, Adelaide Oval, and Optus Stadium.
It’s important to note that these formats would require the players to nominate for State of Origin. This way, those players who wish to take the week off and rest their banged-up bodies can do so, while those who want to represent their state can try and find their way onto a list.
Also, players who were born overseas could opt to represent the state that they play football in. For example, Mason Cox could nominate to represent Victoria, as he plays for Collingwood. It would ensure equal inclusion opportunities for all players.
Now that the AFL is a nation-wide league, State of Origin would allow players to return to their roots and represent their cities, towns, and friends in the ultimate battle of state. It’s a win-win for everyone.
The real question is: why wouldn’t the AFL do it?