In the six years since he made his NRL debut as a teenager, Tom Trbojevic has only taken to the field six times without his brother Jake.
I’m no rugby league expert with 20-plus years of experience playing, coaching, commentating and everything in between for the greatest game of all.
I’m just a humble uni student who is a passionate Broncos and Queensland supporter and I can’t get enough of rugba leeg.
So, I suppose I don’t hold much weight when I say I’m not worried about State of Origin like all those journos, experts, former players and keyboard warriors concerned the game has gone soft because you can no longer do what has been forbidden by the rules since 1908: make contact with the head or neck of the ball carrier in a tackle.
Now, I know lots of people will say, “But most contact with the head is accidental”, or, “Oh, come on, he barely clipped him – just play on” and odds are, these people play and follow rugby league.
I understand we play a physical contact sport with the big collisions, crunching tackles and ferocious hit-ups that make it what it is, but no other contact sport in the world is so relaxed about high contact as we are.
Hearing commentators and fans excuse a player getting whacked on the nose or coat-hangered because ‘the tackler got wrong-footed’ or ‘his arm came up off the ball’ can be, frankly, quite frustrating. Contact to the head is contact to the head – it shouldn’t happen and there’s a sense of carelessness from the tackler if their tackle ends up clocking a person in the face and knocking them out.
But I think I’ve made my point about all of this: I agree with the crackdown and don’t think the game will become ‘soft’ or no longer rugby league. Just as the game didn’t become soft when there was a crackdown on thuggery during the 1970s, documented by the popular documentary The Rivalry: Fibros and Silvertails.
The banning of the shoulder charge and even the ever famous ‘biff’ has happened over time. Now, I wouldn’t say the game has become less physical and aggressive because of it; rather, I’d say it’s become less of a thug’s game.
Don’t get me wrong – not for a second am I claiming any of those famous players of the past are thugs and bemoan them for ruining the appeal of the sport.
They grew up in a time where that was the norm, but unfortunately for many of the game’s dinosaurs, the game has changed into the modern age where which bloke threw the hardest punch in a game of footy is the toughest bloke on the field is no longer the necessary metric for physicality and toughness.
Moving onto State of Origin: many are bemoaning this series will be ruined and not be the same because of it.
I imagine they cried foul when the game rubbed out shoulder charges, punching and more with the same old argument: “We play a contact sport with lots of passion – it’s bound to happen”.
Again, the game has not been ruined by those changes and it won’t be ruined by these changes. State of Origin is still the showpiece event of rugby league with so much hype and build-up to the series that can begin even at the beginning of the NRL season.
Often, discussions take place around who’s going to put their hand up to play Origin, who’s going to be the bolter, who’s going to return to the Origin frame yet again because Origin is beloved by all for its passion, skill and toughness.
Yet again, I say none of that has been lost in the changes over the years. Yes, maybe some grizzled old fans of ‘the good ol’ days’ have stopped watching but the game has gained much support.
So yes, I will once again remain the optimist and say this year will be another epic chapter in the classic battle of state versus state and mate versus mate.
I’m confident in saying that the mighty Maroons will retain the shield because, well, I’m a Queenslander, and it would be wrong to say otherwise.