The last time that NSW won a State of Origin series against Queensland I was a single man living in Sydney. That night, buoyed by the jubilance of the result, and perhaps fuelled by more than a few pints, I marched up to the woman who would later become my wife. Given my wife will readily tell you that I didn’t exactly show Usain Bolt type speed in proposing the fact that I am now married with a family and long settled in Melbourne shows how long ago it was the last Blue Moon shone down over the rugby league landscape.
Being a rugby league fanatic and living in Melbourne is like being Sting’s Englishmen in New York. But come State of Origin time it is always easier to sell the greatest game of all to those in this AFL obsessed city as there isn’t much else in the way of quality live sport on a Wednesday night at prime time. And quality it is as even the most hardened AFL fanatic will usually tune in to watch teams from Queensland and NSW belt the living suitcase out of each other on the sport’s greatest stage.
I am always explaining to the locals, well those who will listen anyway, that there really is nothing like this event in AFL where the best of the best are on show, putting the Poms and Kiwis to one side for present purposes. Sure the AFL has their Grand Final, but Judd, Bartell, Swan, Franklin and Goodes wont all be on the field at once like they would be in their rugby league equivalent.
The NRL in their wisdom decided to play Game One of the State of Origin series of 2012 in Melbourne, much to the annoyance of the Sydney press which had been abuzz with a chorus of disapproval, led primarily by the NSW coach Ricky Stuart. Sticky queried why NSW would sell themselves up the river (or down the Yarra in this case) and discard the treasured home ground advantage when it was so intent on stopping 6 years of Queensland dominance. The rumour that the Victorian Government is in discussions with the NSW and Queensland government to obtain the neutral game each and every year at the MCG, thus ensuring an even series each year, did nothing to calm the baying masses in blue.
It was with a heady mixture of excitement, nervousness and anticipation that I ventured to Etihad Stadium on 23 May 2012, hoping that the maroon fortress built from 6 years of domination would finally start to crumble.
There may be no bigger gamblers in Australia than seen in nearby Crown Casino, but surely on this night Ricky Stuart would take the mantle of Australia’s biggest punter. His main gamble was the selection of Todd Carney, a man who at times in his life would make Brendan Fevola look more on the rails than a Swiss train. It was hoped that Carney would provide the spark that was needed to stop the brilliance of Inglis, Thurston, Smith and Slater but it was the equivalent of trying to win Crown’s Magic Millions with a pair of sevens.
It had always been hard to watch Greg Inglis star for Queensland, given that he was born and raised in Bowraville, a town that wont appear on any map of Queensland given it is several hours drive south of the border. NSW fans were however now hamstrung from any cries of unfairness given that our best forward on the night, James Tamou, is about as true blue Aussie as Jake the Muss.
NSW came out firing in the first half with their set plays looked more structured than a German kindergarten. It was a welcome change from previous Origin series, where any structure went out the window as soon as Queensland applied the inevitable blowtorch but tonight it seemed that finally we were ready to roar.
When the Fijian Flyer (ahem again to the Inglis from NSW argument) crashed over it looked like NSW may be in for a magical night. But as sure as bad news stories follow every Mad Monday, Queensland took the lead after a wild brawl which resulted in Michael Jennings from NSW being sent from the field.
The final cruel nail was delivered when Greg Inglis (I won’t start) crossed for the most controversial scoring play since Wayne Carey was found in the toilets with a teammate’s wife. Even those in Maroon in my vicinity declared that the video referee should have been wearing a balaclava as “you was robbed” (I quote). But to the victors go the spoils, and as I stated on the night I know of no other sporting team in Australia who have more tenacity, spirit and courage under fire than the Queensland Origin team that has developed into the greatest in the history of rugby league.
But onwards and upwards we go to Game 2 in Sydney, where somehow NSW is the bookie’s favourite. Sticky Stuart is still gambling with Todd Carney and I more than any man am hoping his ace in the pack will somehow trump the Royal Flush that has been the past six years of Queensland dominance.
Even if tonight ends with me seeing red, or Maroon in this case, I can take plenty more of that pain. I am also a Rabbitohs fanatic after all….
23 May 2012
Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
Tries: Boyd (2), Inglis
Goals: Thurston 3/3
New South Wales 10
Tries: Uate, Jennings
Goals: Carney 1/3
Best: Myles, Inglis, Tamou