With the announcement Bombers star Zach Merrett will “wait” to decide on his future at the Hangar, he’s now become a hot topic for free agency rumours and put Essendon’s season under the spotlight with perhaps a higher intensity than previously.
It’s State of Origin time, baby! Well, sort of.
As has been announced, the AFL will hold a one-off State of Origin game this February as a fundraiser for the tragic bushfires that have swept the country this summer.
The concept has generally been well received by fans, and why wouldn’t it? The thought of the country’s best players converging on one field to showcase their talent while raising money for a worthy cause is a mouthwatering one, to say the least.
But with the announcement of the one-off game comes the inevitable discussion about reinstating State of Origin as a traditional fixture on the AFL calendar. Is it really such a bad idea?
Here is the proposal. In order to keep the tradition of State of Origin alive and meaningful without not taking anything away from the club competition itself, Origin should be played quadrennially in a four-week period before the season proper. The competition should include the three big football states – Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia – as well as the Allies comprising the rest of the country.
The currently proposed Victoria vs All Stars set up is a perfect format for a one-off charity match and hence should be maintained for next month’s game to ensure the fundraising efforts are the priority. However, it just doesn’t have the same reverence as, say, a packed Adelaide Oval crowd laying into a Big V outfit.
As we’ve seen through some of the mock teams put out by Fox Footy, the sides are probably as even as they ever could be – the WA midfield of Nat Fyfe, Patrick Cripps and Tim Kelly anybody? – so every side, Allies included, would have a genuine chance of winning.
Keeping the Allies allows those players from outside the main states a chance to play against the best sides. While they wouldn’t have the parochial support of the other three states, having the Allies allows games to be played away from the big three AFL cities. For example, they could play one game in Sydney and one in Tasmania, or something along those lines.
Every side could play each other once over a three-week period, forming a mini ladder from which the top two sides face off in a grand final played at the highest-finishing side’s home ground two or three weeks before the start of the AFL season.
Unlike the NRL’s version, playing the competition before the start of the season stops Origin from detracting interest from the premiership season itself and allows players to maintain full focus on playing for their club.
Selection could reward form across the four-year period, which would ensure the best and most consistent players from each state over those four years are chosen. Players would view being selected as a huge honour and could hardly turn down the opportunity given they might get only one chance to play at such a high level.
To keep the clubs somewhat happy a restriction on the number of players able to be selected from any one team could be put in place, while extended benches and shorter quarters of, say, 20 minutes without time on could be introduced to ensure players stay relatively fresh.
During those four weeks players could split training between their club and state – for example, by training with the club on Monday to Wednesday and with their state from Thursday until Sunday – while ensuring their loads are managed.
As just the best players earn the opportunity, it’s not as if they would go backwards in that short time period away from the club. In fact being in an environment with players of equal stature would only help them to lift their game. At club level their absence from preseason practice matches would just give more opportunity to others to step up and take their role, which would hopefully lead to greater input and quicker improvement.
Playing for their state would hardly be riskier than participating in practise matches, so if a player were to get injured, clubs would just have to accept it, although the AFL could possibly offer some sort of compensation.
Most fans would be happy to take the risk of having a key player injured for the sake of a star-studded and meaningful State of Origin competition. While some might be reluctant at first, if they saw the quality of football and the passion of the support from all the states, they’d soon accept Origin as a worthy feature of our great game.
Imagine the palpable anticipation leading up to that year’s instalment as the Big V look to win back the EJ Whitten Trophy from the Sandgropers or as the Croweaters set their sights on kicking the Vics from the mantle of Australia’s best footballing state for the next four years.
Sure, there’d have to be some logistics, such as travel, payments and compensation et cetera, worked out before it could get off the ground, but the desire for Origin is there, so it’s worthy of a discussion.
From a fan point of view the benefits of Origin far outweigh the negatives, and from an AFL perspective the competition could potentially be a huge source of revenue. If that isn’t enough incentive, the four sides could even nominate a certain charity to play for, with the winner earning the most money for their respective charity and so on. Talk about a public image boost for the AFL. Everyone wins!
Next month’s game is a fantastic initiative from the AFL and will do a great job raising much-needed funds for those affected by the bushfires. But after the dust settles on the game and more people start advocating for a return to State of Origin, the AFL should really consider bringing back what is a great aspect of our game.
Go on, Gil. You know you want to.