The football rebirth that fans have been waiting for is finally here.
Well, sort of.
While not quite as we know it, State of Origin is returning for a one-off event tonight at Marvel Stadium.
In true VFL – oh wait, I mean AFL – fashion, it’s the Vics versus the rest (formally known as the All Stars) with the marquee game raising money for those who have been affected by the bushfires over summer.
Before I dive into tonight’s clash, I’d like to extend my thoughts and sympathy to those whose homes, belongings and lives have been directly impacted by the devastating blazes that ripped through the country, and in some areas, are still going. It is wonderful that we, as a nation, can come together as one and do our best to help rebuild.
And when it came to the AFL deciding what they would do to help, it was hard to go past a State of Origin game that could unite fans across Australia (and Ireland, for you Zach Tuohy lovers at home).
The curtain-raiser ahead of the main event is the Round 4 AFLW clash between Collingwood and Melbourne. It promises to be an intriguing clash between the Conference B sides, as only percentage separates them on the ladder.
All eyes will be on Collingwood’s Jaimee Lambert, who has had an exceptional start to the season. Last weekend against Fremantle, she became the first player in AFLW history to have 30-plus touches and a goal in a game. Despite her brilliant individual display, it wasn’t enough to get her team across the line.
Melbourne, too, are coming off a loss. The Dees went down to St Kilda by five points in Round 3, giving the Saints their first win in the AFLW. Both Collingwood and Melbourne, who started the season 2-0, will be desperate to get back on the winners list tonight. I think Collingwood should get the job done.
But the bigger question of the evening is who from their men’s side will be playing in the victorious State of Origin team? All will be revealed tonight in what promises to be an entertaining clash between the Vics and All Stars.
Both teams boast plenty of stars, with eight of the 2019 Brownlow Medal top ten lining up for either side. West Coast’s Tim Kelly has been managed by his new club and was not available for selection while Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko was a late withdrawal from the game.
And there’s no surprise that there are a maximum six representatives from each of last year’s grand finalists, Richmond and GWS. Nine of them will line up for Victoria, making up one third of the side.
It’s Victoria v All-Stars.
It’s State of Origin for Bushfire Relief next Friday night at Marvel Stadium.
— AFL (@AFL) February 18, 2020
Since the original line-ups were announced last week, there have been four changes – three on and one off the field.
Victoria has lost North Melbourne’s Ben Cunnington and Port Adelaide’s Robbie Gray to soreness, replaced by West Coast’s Andrew Gaff and Port’s Travis Boak. The All Stars will be without Zorko, who suffered a hamstring injury during the first week of the Marsh series. In his place comes Carlton’s Eddie Betts.
The other withdrawal is Victoria’s assistant coach Alastair Clarkson, who pulled out of Origin coaching commitments to lead his Hawks in an emergency services-themed practice match against St Kilda in Morwell this afternoon.
But will the game live up to the hype?
It’s one thing for a side to look good on paper but it’s another for all 27 men to play in sync and claim the victory.
The midfield duel sticks out as the obvious talking point, with some of the game’s biggest names on either side. But it’s who they’ll be delivering to inside the forward 50 that could prove the difference.
It’s more than handy for Victoria to boast a side with names like Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Lachie Whitfield and Josh Kelly.
It’s even better that they’ll be able to deliver straight to their teammates in the forward 50, as Richmond’s Tom Lynch and Giant Jeremy Cameron will take their places in the Vic forward line tonight.
That existing synergy between teammates could prove to be the difference in this battle of the best.
Although Carlton pair Patrick Cripps and late inclusion Eddie Betts will line up together for the All Stars, it will be for the first time as they are yet to play together as teammates.
The other match-up to look out for will be between ruckmen Brodie Grundy and Todd Goldstein. Grundy is the game’s number one big man but I wouldn’t be writing Goldstein off too quickly. His career revival could see him match the South Australian in the air and around the ground.
Despite having six years on Grundy, Goldstein is still one of the most athletic and agile players in the competition. Both players will be instrumental for their respective sides and will be well supported by Stefan Martin and Scott Lycett.
I’m backing the Vics, just.
No matter which way the result goes, one thing is for certain: AFL fans will be treated to an extra special and entertaining appetiser to the 2020 home-and-away season in the name of an extra special cause.