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High time for Origin to truly feel the love

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11th June, 2019
13

The results are in. Once again, State of Origin Game 1 is the biggest sporting and television event of 2019 to date.

The match attracted an average metro audience of 2,178,000 and a combined metro and regional audience of 3,934,950 to go along with a near sell-out at Suncorp Stadium.

While the game did not quite reach the lofty heights of 2016, it is still the biggest free-to-air TV event so far this year by a long way, dwarfing overall viewing of the final of fellow ratings-giant ‘Married at first sight’ (around 2.61 million).

One would think, armed with these figures, that rugby league fans, at least in Australia, would be revelling in the code’s healthy position.

But fans and commentators have an innate ability to find fault in all things NRL.

If the Origin streets are paved with gold, some are determined to point out the developing cracks in said streets.

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Some of the criticisms come from legitimate observations, like the standard of the NRL competition visibly suffering during the Origin period and the international game being devalued because of the perceived superiority state-based series.

This is where rugby league purists and international tragics (like me) find it a little bit hard to embrace the darling of Australian sport.

Tonga

Junior Tatola of Tonga celebrates with his teammates. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Rugby league has built an impressive Jenga tower out its many different pieces but, like any Jenga tower, once it gets too big it becomes precarious. Move one piece and the whole thing could come crashing down.

It seems to make sense to stop the competition and have dedicated Origin weekends, which would benefit the players and clubs, and maintain the standard of the competition.

By scheduling internationals during this period, the broadcasters’ desire for content would still be met.

But last year showed us that stopping the competition does affect ratings and if this eventually costs the game tens of millions of dollars out of whose end does it come?

It is a scary reality to face.

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The international conundrum is an even trickier dilemma.

As the international game grows and becomes more visible so do the amount of players who are opting to play Origin than that of their heritage country.

Yes, the defections of Andrew Fifita and Tevita Pangai Junior to Tonga over the Blues were wonderful stories, yet both Origin teams are still littered with players who have either already played or are eligible to play for the country of their heritage.

Each case is different, and between the lucrative payday and high profile, Origin can possibly be seen as the pinnacle of one’s career.

While not ideal, if a player has played Origin, they are not yet completely aligned to the Australian Kangaroos or Jillaroos. If by the next World Cup, Paul Vaughan or Anthony Milford take their skills and experience back to Italy and Samoa respectively, this can only be seen as a good thing.

Paul Vaughan

Paul Vaughan (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

I long for a time when the international game is as popular as Origin.

Many fans, like myself, are just as excited for the Tonga vs New Zealand rematch during the Origin-International break, and long for a World Cup that is legitimately full of the world’s best players and most passionate fans – a true rugby league holy land.

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Unfortunately, we are not there yet.

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It is unfair to make Origin the punching bag for all these frustrations.

Origin is only perceived as the pinnacle of rugby league because millions of people lap it up, it sells out stadiums outside of the heartlands, and floods sport coverage – which we gladly devour.

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I say it’s time to show it a little more love and embrace the madness.