IT INCITES THE TRIBAL INSTINCT
None of this means I don’t still love Origin. I do. Times change, but that’s all. I love Origin for what it brings to our game, what it brings to our young men. It gives them an opportunity to play at their very best and I don’t care if you’re a cockroach or a Queenslander, I love that.
I enjoy the competition, the banter and the rivalry and I think it’s still rugby league’s great hope, the thing that can and will take it into the future.
It still captures everyone’s imagination. I’m 60 and I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who’s just 25, and she was telling me how nervous she is about the game. It incites that tribal instinct in all of us. We all hate the thought of losing.
It’s still got that magnificent essence that it’s had from the start and it’s the game’s cash cow. It brings the major sponsorship and don’t ever kid yourself that it’s not the foundation of every television rights deal we sell.
Do you think the networks would be chasing rugby league as hard as they do without Origin? Ask rugby union how they’re going, without something like that.
The quality of the football is unbelievable. Every year I marvel at how big and strong and fast these young men are. It doesn’t make them better than the players from other eras, but all of those improvements in sports science and training methods have created a different sort of athlete.
The powers-that-be have just got to be careful not to try and mould Origin into something it isn’t. Every now and then we hear about ideas to bring New Zealand in, or allow a couple of foreign players in the two sides. It doesn’t need any of that.
That are not many events that transcend their sport and reach those people who are not usually interested, but Origin does. It’s like the Melbourne Cup.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Queenslander, a New South Welshman, a Victorian or a Tasmanian, if you’re an Australian you’re interested in State of Origin and you’ll stop to take in the games. Change what we’ve got and you risk doing it at your peril.
It’s about Queensland versus NSW. That’s what it’s all about and that’s all it ever needs to be about.
I LIKE THE WAY KEVVY’S TALKING
There’s a bit of fun and games going on with this series. Kevvy’s got some sort of mind-coach tipping to him as Queensland coach. Freddy’s bringing more of his new-age ways in as NSW coach. I think it’s wonderful. What great theatre it provides, it’s just fantastic.
Freddy’s spent a lot of his life in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and it’s rubbed off on him. He’s gone a bit soft, I reckon, with the bare feet and getting the minerals into you from the dirt, and the yoga and now the breathing coach. That’s not rugby league, is it?
And Kevvy’s the opposite. He’s from Ipswich. You don’t take no shit at Ipswich, you just put up your dukes and get on with it.
So Freddy’s very new-age isn’t he, very avant-garde, and Kevvy’s down and dirty. He wants to roll in the pig-shit and come up punching.
I don’t know what this bloke is telling Kevvy, but I like the way Kevvy’s talking. No mucking around, he wants to win and he’s made it very clear to the players what the expectations are. I’m all for that.
Freddy wants to win too, he’s just doing it a different way. He’s more politically correct. He’s going with the modern world, he’s in touch with his inner self.
QUEENSLAND WILL GET FLOGGED, SURELY?
I was the Queensland team manager for 12 years. I left that role because I had a business to run, but I’m a director of the Former Origin Greats so I still have a touchpoint with the team. I’m still involved here and there. We get asked to address the team and spend time with the players.
I’m still very much a Queensland supporter, an Origin fan. I want to win, I want them to win. I want them to get the best out of themselves for their State.
Queensland was never out of any of the three games last year. I just don’t think it was until game three that they got the selections right. We got some go-forward and Daly Cherry-Evans had some room to move off the back of that. I’d like to think that will happen again.
We’ve had some champion players move on from the Maroons in recent years, but this is not a new thing. Queensland has been regenerating forever. It started when people thought the world would end because Wally Lewis had retired. Then it was Alf, and Locky, and JT.
We get romanced into thinking the best player of this particular time is the best player of all-time, but that’s rubbish. Good players come and go and are replaced by other good players.
A prediction for game one? Queensland will get flogged, surely. Isn’t that the word from down there? No, I’m very optimistic, as I always am. I like the look of our team. I know they’ll give it a good shake because they have never not done that.
But NSW won’t just let it happen, because they’ve got a very good team again as well. You’d have to be a harsh judge to look at either of those teams and find much fault.
It’s going to be another great series.