Why a sport’s origin shouldn’t restrict its future
With the opening State of Origin clash only 12 days away, I thought it was time to inject a blue and maroon theme into this column.
Should rugby league’s most revered contest be played in Melbourne, or is that tantamount to sporting sacrilege?
Most diehard Queensland and New South Wales supporters will tell you that Melbourne can “get stuffed” and keep its own football code when the subject of which cities should host the three matches is broached.
In fact, three Mount Isa rugby league fans gave almost verbatim responses this week when I posed the question about State of Origin in Melbourne.
Fan one: “You’re f—— kidding, aren’t you? They [Melbourne] already have aerial ping-pong down there; why should they get our game, too?”
Fan two: “It’s rubbish. The games are between us and New South Wales.”
Fan three: “It’s Queensland versus New South Wales. The games should be kept in those states.”
Unfortunately for the fans, the decision to play a State of Origin game in Melbourne isn’t one based on state pride.
As with all things in professional sport, the decision was based on economics.
That, and the ongoing exposure and development of rugby league outside of the game’s spiritual home and holiday house in Brisbane and Sydney.
A huge – and very profitable – rugby league market is emerging in Melbourne, and the powers that be are planning taking advantage of that.
It’s incredibly unlikely the people making the decisions will be swayed by the heartfelt pleas and sky blue and maroon-tinged anti-Melbourne arguments of fans who remember the first game in 1980.
When players run onto Etihad Stadium on May 23, they will do so in front of more than 60,000 screaming fans keen to witness rugby league’s greatest spectacle.
That’s good for the sport, and good for the coffers of everyone involved.
Besides, why shouldn’t Melbourne host a game?
We can’t restrict a competition that spruiks itself as the National Rugby League to just two states, even if we are talking about a contest played between just them.
The lone Victorian-based NRL team, the Melbourne Storm, has been one of the dominant teams in the competition in the past few seasons.
They are undefeated after nine rounds in 2012.
The team’s three biggest stars – Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk – will all pull on the Maroon jersey 12 days from now, and are referred to as “our boys” by most Queenslanders.
With that in mind, isn’t it a little hypocritical to suggest Melbourne isn’t entitled to one State of Origin game each year?
Former Brisbane Bronco and Queensland player Ben Ikin is a firm believer in the fact Melbourne – and eventually, the rest of Australia – needs more exposure to the game.
In his column in the Brisbane Times this week he said, “As much as we’d like to, we can’t keep State of Origin all to ourselves.”
Ikin suggests that the first and second game in each series should be played in Brisbane and Sydney, with the third going to Melbourne, but he ventures further by saying other Australian cities should eventually host matches.
“When we determine the Melbourne rugby league market has reached its target maturation, we look for our next area of growth and send State of Origin there for however long we need to,” he said.
Ikin makes a strong point: if the game is going to continue to go from strength to strength in Australia against fierce competition from the AFL, soccer and rugby union, it can’t just be seen as the game of cockroaches and cane toads.
State of Origin is all about where the game has come from, but for it to prosper, we need to take a moment to look at where it’s heading.