With summer approaching and the 2017 rugby league season almost finished, it’s a good time to examine the game’s showpiece: State of Origin.
Every so often, doomsdayers love to predict the format’s demise, though the conjecture is usually forgotten when the next series arrives.
While Origin will never die, it’s in danger of getting stale, for a number of reasons.
If any other bilateral series had one team dominate for nine of the last 11 years, questions would be asked. Yet, you can’t deny the Queenslanders’ passion: no chance to humiliate NSW is passed up. For non-Queenslanders, their dominance is boring. Yes they have an amazing side, but how many times can you say “Qld were too good”, before getting bored?
One of the best things for Australian cricket was the 2005 Ashes loss. The Aussies dominated England for 16 years and it got boring for all but the most hardy fans. How many fans remember Australia’s wins from 1990 to 2003? Everyone remembers 2005. It was the best thing for Australia as it fired them (and the fans) up for the 2006/07 whitewash. It made Australia hungry again. Those were the days…
So how does that relate to Origin? Well, Queensland keep winning, NSW flop between almost but not quite to getting thrashed. Whenever NSW win a game, the Channel Nine cheersquad gets all excited only to come back to earth three weeks later. Even NSW’s dead rubber win this year was tainted by controversy.
Some have suggest including a NZ or Pacific team to offset the struggling Blues, but that won’t happen.
Eventually, NSW will start winning again, if only because Queensland’s champions have to retire sometime. The huge crowds at Homebush proves Blues fans still care, but how patient can they be?
To keep interest alive, there is the option to spread the game outside Brisbane and Sydney. We all know Melbourne will support Origin (helped by Queensland’s Storm contigent), but what about Perth or even New Zealand? Traditionalists will scoff, but Origin is the NRL ace, it makes sense to share it around.
Another problem is Nine’s Origin telecast. At times it feels like Nine are using Origin for their own self-indulgence rather than the good of the game. The kickoff is a big problem. Games are meant to start at 8pm, but usually start closer to 8:30, which means Nine’s pre-game show goes for almost an hour. The game usually ends by 10pm on a Wednesday night – way too late for a work and/or school night. Shifting the kickoff to 7:45pm (like Friday Night Football), would solve this problem and let Nine continue their rampant self-indulgence. Just keep Shannon Noll away from the pre-match entertainment…
The biggest issue is the player drain. A strong Origin representation should be an honour for any NRL club, but at times it feels teams are being punished.
Since 1998, the Broncos have boasted a heavy Origin contingent. Of course, around July/August, the hangover kicks in and the Broncos slide down the ladder. It’s cost the Broncos many promising seasons.
This year’s round 18 game was a prime example of the Origin drain. The Monday night game between Canberra and North Queensland at Bruce should have been a cracking contest between two top four teams. Sadly for the Cowboys, their Origin players were missing and Canberra (not burdened by Origin commitments) won easily. Ok, Raiders fans weren’t complaining, but it wasn’t the same…
Fans have been demanding proper Origin byes. While the NRL has scheduled a Sunday night Origin for 2018, with Pacific Tests, it’s only a small step. Stand-alone Origin weekends need to be permanent to make it fairer on Origin-heavy teams. Take a leaf from the May rep round, play the Pacific Tests, under 20s Origin or even women’s Origin on the weekend then have the main game Wednesday night.