Amongst the British rugby league community, there is general respect for State of Origin. We appreciate the chance to see the best players in the world go hell for leather in the Greatest Game of All.
It makes for a nice change to our spasmodically sub-standard product and the machinating politics that would offend tinpot dictators with comparisons to Banana Republics.
But there’s a subset that views the series as a bit selfish, symbolic of an inward-looking attitude that neglects the potential of the international game in both hemispheres. If only Australia played more international games, what a show we would have! As a fan introduced to the game by the World Cup, I held onto this belief for a long time.
No doubt that’s the wrong and very simplistic attitude, neglectful of the real-world situation, marred with nostalgia, what-ifs and a heavy dose of jealousy. But the rugby league public here, who are raised on tales of sell-out Kangaroo Tours and who fantasise about how good a win over the Aussies would be for the game, envy the riches and profile of rugby league in Australia.
I’ve always maintained that the domestic game would be bigger than the international game (and that I was fine with that), but with the caveat that there is room for the both.
I include Origin domestically because it covers the same principle that a strong Australian game – even if it makes the rest of the world comparatively weaker – is not detrimental to international development. It should not preclude such efforts, and can be beneficial.
The series provides a better spectacle with far greater reliability than international ties. It’s very reasonable on the part of the Australian onlooker to say that it’s up to the other nations to get up to Origin standard. Blues-Maroons guarantees the big bucks, so why should that money be diluted taking a punt on investing to other nations, with no guarantee of similar income or competitive clashes?
I also appreciate the irony of complaints from some English quarters of Australian neglect for the international game. Our internecine hullaballoo vis-à-vis Toronto and inability to schedule ‘rep’ games here is an embarrassment of Johnsonian proportions.
I’ve learnt to appreciate Origin’s potential to galvanise the international game. It has the potential to draw in an otherwise disengaged public, the best that the game has to offer can act as a gateway to the sport.
It is one of the few foreign spectacles that BBC Radio broadcasts – and one only need glance at Papua New Guinea to see the pull it can have.
Then there’s the mid-season representative weekend, mainly put in place to accommodate a weekend Origin fixture. With no NRL that weekend, eyeballs and attention can be turned to New Zealand, Polynesian and Melanesian internationals.
Acting as an ‘undercard’ to Origin, but growing in stature all the time, such fixtures can fill a schedule usually reserved for the eight club matches, bringing viewership and profile to the ‘other’ representative footy.
A Prime Minister’s XIII, players not involved in either state camps, could be assembled by an otherwise thumb twiddling Mal Meninga to take to Papua New Guinea or elsewhere. It would hardly galvanise the Australian public, but would generate great interest in the host country, provide quality opposition and a chance to improve player quality.
I fully accept that it is up to the rest of the world to reach Australian standards; all we ask for in trying to achieve that goal is a bit of help, with guarantees that it would be in no way detrimental to Origin.
Even if it’s only one or two games a year, allow for regular games and a reliable schedule that can allow national teams and boards to organise long-term, secure player buy-in and search for revenue.
It would help if we could try not being so disparaging to international competition. I’ve said this before, but it’s wrong to look down one’s nose at sides made of diaspora players, rather than accepting their identity.
NRL clubs need to release their players when called up. Nothing grates more than the potential for great rugby league, ruined by stubborn managers refusing to allow players to leave their camp (see then Bronco Wayne Bennett refusing to release Samoan Anthony Milford).
And finally, have patience. It could take a long time for any side to reach the Kangaroos’ level, but it took a long time for Origin to blossom into a battered down interstate formality into the great spectacle it is today. We aren’t asking for the world, just a chance to show you what the world can do.