The AFL has scheduled a one-off State of Origin, come Saturday it needs to realise it should just be the start of things to come.
THE Big V.
Three simple words. But there is nothing simple about what it represents and its place in Australian sport.
It’s been 21 years since Victoria last walked out onto the ground in a State of Origin match (the 2008 game was quintessential exhibitionism) yet that simple three-word phrase still evokes something so strong.
“(State of Origin) is rich with nostalgia, it’s laced with passion and it conjures images of magnificent contests and the game’s great players. Each year the Australian Football Hall of Fame inductions reminds us just how important state matches were in a player forging his reputation.”
The words of Gerard Whateley on his morning radio show this week. He is a self-declared Origin man, and whilst tomorrow night isn’t properly State of Origin, where the Big V’s opponent is an amalgamation of everywhere else, clearly the buzz and novelty and importance of representative footy still reigns supreme.
This column has long been an advocate for the return of State of Origin, and too in the timeslot the AFL has scheduled this ‘one off’ Bushfire relief game. Let’s call a spade a spade – the AFL has fixtured, in their words, a State of Origin game, and in the pre-season. That sounds awfully familiar to every second column we’ve ever written!
But in all seriousness, tomorrow was first and foremost for supporting communities ravaged by the bushfire crisis, and rightfully so, but we now want to focus on what this means for the concept.
No question, it will be a packed, engaged Marvel Stadium, on a Friday night in late February, not because of a warmth for the folks of Mallacoota and Kangaroo Island, but because of the sporting contest on advertisement.
It will rate its socks off. Lewis Martin, head of Sport at Channel Seven, has realistically predicted TV ratings will be in their millions, rivalling the best numbers the Aus Open or cricket could ever hope for in the pinnacle of their summer schedules – as a commercial entity in that sense it’s going to be monstrous.
Tomorrow night’s success will prove that any philanthropic cause aside, the football public is keen for a big showcase event at this time of year. Logistically we are seeing as well that it is more than appropriate in and around existing pre-season commitments, player workloads and final preparations ready for Round One in a month’s time.
But don’t forget, the players drove this initiative. They didn’t just push for any which way to contribute to the fundraising efforts, they deliberately pushed for State footy.
The players have long yearned for the chance to pull on that state jumper again, and whilst this week it’s all about the Big V, don’t discredit what those particularly from South Australia and Western Australia have been saying.
They are naturally flattered and excited by being involved, however all bar none at some point in their media commitments have inferred it’s a shame they can’t wear the blue, red and gold of South Australia, or the black swan of Western Australia.
It’s a fair assumption any Victorian playing tomorrow night will walk off the field with an even stronger urge to wear the Big V again. But you can bet a Patrick Cripps or Nat Fyfe will even more so wish to return to the same stage but not for the All Stars, or the Allies, but for Western Australia.
So in dreaming a little, which stakeholder involved with scheduling and coordinating such events, would not be totally in awe of the prospect of WA hosting Victoria this time next year at an utterly heaving Optus Stadium?
For goodness sake, each Victorian player is having his jumper presented by former Victorian captain Leigh Matthews. You couldn’t make this stuff up no matter how many high distinctions earned in your marketing degree.
This is not a conjured gimmick akin to the fun and frivolity of a Legends match, this is proper, legit, it’s etched out of folklore but would still be as good a rendition as our game can be.
Interestingly then, the commercial realities involved in the changing landscape that is television, will only become more and more problematic. Finding and adding new value for media rights from within has never been more paramount.
It can be suggested totally irresponsible then to ignore or overlook the carrot tomorrow night presents. It’s repeatable, it’s got mass appeal, and all of those positives ever more being realised as this game has drawn closer outweigh more and more the difficulties or compromises that might have once existed in re-committing to State footy.
But if we can make one final stipulation, let it actually be State of Origin. Let Patrick Dangerfield’s enthusiasm for the jumper he represents tomorrow be matched by Shannon Hurn and the jumper he adorns also.
Let us see Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia play each other on a rotating basis. Let’s see packed Adelaide Ovals, Optus Stadiums, let’s start new traditions.
We want to see bunches of mates from Keilor, or Doncaster, or Shepparton, plan long-weekends in late February to go watch the Vics play the Croweaters in Adelaide. Or boys from Mandurah making the trip over to see the Sandgropers try and finally win in Melbourne for the first time in the state’s history.
Let’s one day ask if Patrick Cripps is the best Western Australian captain of all time. Let’s talk about Brodie Grundy as a three-time Fos Williams medallist.
Sure, Tasmanians, Queenslanders and the Irish wouldn’t play in this proposal. But the New Zealand boys don’t play NRL State of Origin and no-one bats an eyelid. Yes, they have international footy, but it should not be about an all-inclusive physical education class mentality where everyone gets a go at ‘insert sport here’.
This is about reviving a proven formula where it’s about the State you’re representing not the names on the team list. Too this is also about showcasing the pinnacle of our sport. Right now that’s the three big states. NSW vs Queensland as a match up works really well in rugby league, we can be patient for when it might be remotely worthwhile in Australian rules.
Tomorrow then we hope will be the catalyst. The spark. Once the flame is lit it will be harder to extinguish than to not to fan into a new chapter of State of Origin football we can celebrate and never let go of again.
And then, we can say about those naysayers, who have said Origin is dead, it won’t come back, that it deserves to be resigned to the ashtray of history, in the great words of Origin stalwart E.J. Whitten, that “we stuck it right up em.”