Rugby league vs State of Origin

state-of-origin
No State of Origin for Broncos halfback Ben Hunt, who returns from injury for the NZ Warriors game on Saturday (Benji Marshall in the wings) Photo courtesy

Dear readers, it’s time for those of you who don’t like rugby league or sport in general to get back to posting cat and dog photos on Facebook. Today we ask the unthinkable: why not scrap this faux State rivalry  called State of Origin and let footie players get back to their own teams?

Each year at this time, professional rugby league players face a massive conflict. If you’re good enough, fit enough and have that perceived ‘spark’ you’ll get picked for State Of Origin.

Kick-off for the first of three State of Origin games is this Wednesday evening. It’s Queensland vs New South Wales, although not really. You can be born and bred in Cunnamulla, but if your first senior game was played in Dubbo, then by default you become a NSW representative – a “Cockroach”. Likewise for the Queensland team. If you played your first senior footie for Brothers in Brisbane, you’re a Cane Toad.

But as Brisbane Broncos Chairman Dennis Watt says, “It’s always part of every player’s dream to play for their State and play for their country. If they get picked, nobody says no.”

Mr Watt says the State of Origin period (May 31-July 12) is a difficult management issue for the Brisbane Broncos, who have six senior players in the Queensland team for State of Origin I.

“It’s a big impost on the club but also an opportunity for younger players coming through.

“The fear is that top players will be injured. Traditionally we (Broncos) have not done well through the Origin period, with the exception of 2015.

“My other fear is that the junior players will eat too much at the buffet,” he quipped.

A touring group of 45 players, coaches and support staff left Brisbane this week, flying to Auckland for the match against the New Zealand Warriors. The group included 20 players from the Broncos under-20 team, who will also play on Saturday. All travel, accommodation and ancillary costs are covered by the NRL.

“The downside of State of Origin is that we are missing some of our best players,” he said. “We haven’t been playing great footy for 80 minutes (this year), but there’s a bit of grit about the team.”

Mr Watt, a former newspaper executive, says he is enjoying the challenge of helping Broncos chief executive Paul White oversee the construction of the Broncos’ new $27 million headquarters at Red Hill.

NRL.Com’s New Zealand correspondent Corey Rosser, previewing Saturday’s game at Mt Smart Stadium, seemed to be predicting a Broncos win. He reminded readers of the Warriors 30-14 loss to the St George Illawarra Dragons last week, while Brisbane scored six tries against the Wests Tigers to win 36-0.

Six Broncos players and Warriors veteran Jacob Lillyman will miss the Round 12 match in Auckland due to State of Origin commitments. The Broncos will be missing Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Anthony Milford, Josh McGuire, Matt Gillett and Sam Thaiday. Also missing from the squad is hooker Andrew McCullough (injured).

Halfback Ben Hunt returns from injury, joining utility player Benji Marshall, who has had limited playing time for the Broncos in 2017. Newcomers or players who rarely get a run include Jai Arrow, Jonus Pearson, Jaydn Su’A, Travis Waddell and George Fai (making his first-grade debut). The Broncos named Tevita Pangai Junior, Jamayne Isaako and Joe Boyce as reserves.

We were at Lang Park stadium in Brisbane on May 13 for the ‘double-header’ rugby league event. We got there at 5.15 and the first game between The Gold Coast Titans and the Melbourne Storm had already started. The crowd, which later swelled to 44,127, was already vocal. There were conflicting cries of “Go Billy, Go” or “Hayne Train.” If you want a quiet Saturday night out, don’t do it to yourself.

It is interesting how a football stadium becomes a microcosm of the broader city. There were a few “pre-loaded” young blokes intent upon drinking themselves into a stupor, a few young women wearing heels and nightclub clothes instead of the ubiquitous Broncos fan jumpers. There were also happy family groups behind and in front of us, one woman willing to take our photo ‘in situ.’

“Don’t try posting that to Facebook from here, mate” she advised. “Everyone’s on it and it will take ages to upload.” She was right. The Titans made an unbelievable comeback and beat the Storm 38-36.

Then we were between matches. The Manly cheerleaders came on the field in tiny white shorts and halter tops and did a dance routine. Many people streamed out and thronged to the bar. There were queues for food, queues for the loos and those not otherwise engaged were checking their phones or checking out the tiny white shorts.

When I returned to my seat, the Little League game was in progress. These keen young kids play across a small section of the field at half-time. Even with the under-6 kids, you can spot the future stars. They are the ones who run straight and hard, tackle properly or who show footwork and pace. One particular young lad crossed the goal line four times. There are a few different age categories of mini league kids between 6 and 10. Hard to know which is which when there’s no commentary, just a seemingly muddled group of kids getting carved up by the three or four who know what’s going on.

“Go, son, go” came a shout from somewhere behind me, “Go! You beauty.” (as the kid scored between the plastic goal posts.

Then Manly (boo) and the Brisbane Broncos (yay) ran out for the main match. We were up and down like that Whack-A-Mole sideshow game. Every few minutes we were standing, flipping back our seats back while someone struggled their way to the other end of the row, carrying four dribbling beers in a plastic tray. This went on all night, even though drinks are expensive at Lang Park (sorry, Suncorp Stadium). She Who Listens to the Radio While Watching Footie shouted “Why don’t you sit down and stay sat.” I pointed out that as she had headphones in her ears, the remark may have been louder than she thought. “Good,” she mouthed.

Despite a dismal first half, when Manly piled on 14 unanswered points, one of the best coaches in the game (Wayne Bennett) must have said inspiring words at half-time. The Broncos came back from a 14-0 deficit to win the match 24-14.

As 44,127 people were being squeezed like toothpaste out of Suncorp Stadium’s various exits, I had that panicky feeling like when you’re about to go under anaesthetic but nobody has given you pethidine yet.

If you don’t like crowds and noise and can’t afford decent seats, you’re far better off watching rugby league on TV, or listen to the game on ABC Grandstand. You’ll get a better word picture of the game and even details often missed by Nine’s commentators like who replaced who from the bench (and why). And you’ll never hear discussions about whether players should wear their socks up or down.

Shut up, Gus!