THIS column has long been a strong advocate for the return of State footy to the AFL, a league longing to get the representative stuff right but never quite has. The constant tweaks and rejuvenation to the hybrid games against Ireland further proves that there’s a thirst and commitment to scheduling fixtures outside of club football each year but that we’re still yet to crack it.
State of Origin was born and bred in Australian Rules football, not Rugby League, and a successful reincarnation of the glory days, a three game series each year played during the pre-season, would be just the most glorious opener to the football season ever.
The format, again, would be simple, the big three states play each other once, every second year the fixtures reverse, allowing each state to play each other once at home over the two year period. No amalgamated sides or the poorer states, just Victoria, SA and WA battling it out, an elite standard of our game we have not seen in decades. It would too further grow the game in the northern states, mirroring the interest that the rugby league equivalent drives in the southern states.
A part of this grander plan would see the State sides selected the prior year during ‘awards season’ to which we are now entering, so with that in mind let’s enter the realm of this alternative future and see what it would look like if we had State of Origin to look forward to next summer.
Firstly, a fixture, and it’s amazing in its own right:
Saturday, Feb 17, 2018 Perth Stadium WA vs. VIC
Saturday, Feb 24, 2018 Adelaide Oval SA vs. WA
Saturday, Mar 03, 2018 MCG VIC vs. SA
What better way to open the brand new Perth Stadium than with WA hosting Victoria, 60,000 Western Australians going bananas as they see their state side play for the first time at home in 20 years.
Adelaide hosts week two, the Croweaters welcome Franklin, Fyfe and Kennedy, then it’s the big one in week three, Victoria hosting South Australia at the MCG in front of a properly big crowd.
It’s important to note that whilst these three games are played, the first three weeks of the JLT series would be played in and around these matches, by players not selected for their states,
The fourth and final week of pre-season games would be played the weekend of March 9-11, where all players would be available for their clubs, ensuring the most minimal impact to clubs preparations for the home and away season which starts late-March.
Now onto the selections, which in this make-believe world would be immensely prestigious, up there with an All-Australian selection, to be picked for your state truly a massive honour.
**please note, the 40-man All-Australian squad was the basis of selections, it filled the Victorian team almost in itself. For any vacancies it was then my judgement, and those long-term injured were not considered, so no Scott Pendlebury for Victoria or Nic Naitanui for WA, even though in all likelihood the latter probably has to play.
B Rory Laird (Adelaide) Heath Grundy (Sydney) Tom Jonas (Port Adelaide)
HB Shaun Burgoyne (Hawthorn) Phil Davis (GWS Giants) Shannon Hurn (captain, West Coast)
C Ryan Burton (Hawthorn) Brad Ebert (Port Adelaide) Brodie Smith (Adelaide)
HF Chad Wingard (Port Adelaide) Justin Westhoff (Port Adelaide) Shane Edwards (Richmond)
F Orazio Fantasia (Essendon) Tim O’Brien (Hawthorn) Daniel Menzel (Geelong)
Foll Sam Jacobs (Adelaide) Bryce Gibbs (Carlton) Lachie Neale (Fremantle)
Inter Brodie Grundy (Collingwood) Jared Polec (Port Adelaide) Hamish Hartlett (Port Adelaide) Bernie Vince (Melbourne)
Emerg Paul Puopolo (Hawthorn) Caleb Daniel (Bulldogs) Travis Varcoe (Collingwood)
Not the strongest SA team compared to bygone eras, but the key forward stocks aside it’s not too bad. Tim O’Brien is the luckiest footballer in the land but especially since Matthew Pavlich has retired and Taylor Walker is from Broken Hill, close but it’s not quite South Australia, so the young Hawk has to get in. Backline is fairly strong, the small forward brigade is decent and look, it’s not to the standard of Victoria or WA but they are still far superior to any of the other states still and in State footy, with a good game plan, who’d be super confident betting against them?
B Jake Lever (Adelaide) Michael Hurley (Essendon) Sam Docherty (Carlton)
HB Michael Hibberd (Melbourne) David Astbury (Richmond) Dylan Roberton (St Kilda)
C Rory Sloane (Adelaide) Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong) Zach Merrett (Essendon)
HF Josh Kelly (GWS Giants) Tom Lynch (Gold Coast) Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide)
F Eddie Betts (Adelaide) Joe Daniher (Essendon) Toby Greene (GWS Giants)
Foll Matthew Kreuzer (Carlton) Dustin Martin (Richmond) Joel Selwood (captain, Geelong)
Inter Josh Kennedy (Sydney) Matt Crouch (Adelaide) Marcus Bontempelli (Bulldogs) Dylan Shiel (GWS Giants)
Emerg Adam Treloar (Collingwood) Trent Cotchin (Richmond) Clayton Oliver (Melbourne)
What do you say really, it’s a terrific side. Astbury rewarded with becoming one of the best lockdown defenders in the comp, even in a side featuring arguably the very best in Rance. Eddie Betts qualifies as a Victorian, which is a luxury this side doesn’t really need, and the list of quality midfielders available is an embarrassment of riches. Dangerfield and Martin together alone is just scary.
B Neville Jetta (Melbourne) Alex Rance (Richmond) Tom Barass (West Coast)
HB Elliott Yeo (West Coast) Jeremey McGovern (West Coast) Jason Johannisen (Bulldogs)
C Mitch Duncan (Geelong) Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn) Bradley Hill (Fremantle)
HF Sam Menegola (Geelong) Lance Franklin (Sydney) Jeff Garlett (Melbourne)
F Jack Darling (West Coast) Josh Kennedy (West Coast) Charlie Cameron (Adelaide)
Foll Paddy Ryder (Port Adelaide) Patrick Cripps (Carlton) Nat Fyfe (captain, Fremantle)
Inter Rory Lobb (GWS Giants) Stephen Coniglio (GWS Giants) Daniel Wells (Collingwood) Nathan Wilson (GWS Giants)
Emerg Michael Walters (Fremantle) Stephen Hill (Fremantle) Alex Fasolo (Collingwood)
Very nice backline, good level of star quality up forward and through the middle, this team would be very competitive with the Victorians. Nowhere near the depth of course but 22 on 22, especially with 60,000 screaming home fans opening a new stadium, they’d be quite the value bet. The idea of Franklin and Kennedy in the same forward line is just insane.
So there it is, whilst we celebrate the All-Australian team, the Rising Star, and the rest of the honours rolled out in the period between the home and away season and Grand Final day, here would be another prestigious recognition rewarding those players who have had fantastic seasons.
Plus, unlike the All-Australian team, we would then have the utter pleasure of seeing these three sides actually play off against one another, in three huge games, in front of three monster crowds, to open the 2019 year of football in a way the football fan could either barely remember or barely curtail their excitement.
Who doesn’t want to see Buddy Franklin in the time-honoured gold jumper with a black swan head down to the forward line, crossing paths with the likes of Dangerfield, Martin and Bontempelli walking towards middle in the navy Big V?
And even though they aren’t at their pinnacle, a sea of red at the Adelaide Oval, especially hosting Victoria in 2019, would be one of the best sights in all of sport. They go mental for Crows or Power games, more so the Showdowns, but the Croweaters hosting the Big V, that’s a whole another level of fanaticism.
Bring it back Gil, you’ve got my number, let’s do this.