As many of you will have worked out by now, I am a sports fanatic: simply put, if it is sport I will watch it and I will follow a team. Over the years I have fallen in and out of love with many sports. Rugby League is a sport that I have loved and fallen out of love with over time and it would be fair to say that aside from my ongoing support of the Canberra Raiders, the NRL competition in Australia really does not interest me much.
That fact declared, it is that time of the year again that my fervour for the game of rugby league reaches its peak because it is State of Origin time.
For as long as I can remember as a young child there were only three nights in a year that I was allowed to stay up late and they were the Wednesday nights that State of Origin was on. I would sit with my Dad, watch and listen to his oft frustrated rumblings about high tackles, repeat sets of six and head high tackles all the while not really knowing what was going on. It would be fair to say that during my formative years I was not so much a rabid supporter of State of Origin rugby league but more a passive observer.
That all changed when I went to my first game of State of Origin at Lang Park. 12 June 1991 was the date and it was the third game of a hard-fought series ultimately won by Queensland 2-1. I have three vivid memories of this game: first that we were in the old outer of Lang Park sitting on concrete steps; second that Mal Meninga kicked a goal from the sideline and I had never heard a sound like it and third, it was Wally Lewis’ last game. To that point in my life I had never experienced anything like it and was hooked.
Still though, even after my 1991 experience I did not possess that “hatred” of New South Wales that most of us from the Sunshine State possess around this time of year. It was not until 1995 that I really understood what it meant to Queenslanders to beat New South Wales.
For those that can remember it, the 1995 series was held at the start of the “Super League War” and all of the expectations were of a New South Wales whitewash, the bulk of Queensland’s usual team sheet being aligned with the rebel faction. New South Wales players, coaches and supporters were insufferable before the series started and I wanted nothing more for Queensland to prove them wrong. Everything that those much more senior to me had been complaining about with respect to those who reside on the other side of the Tweed River finally was sheeted home to me.
History shows that Paul Vautin’s team of “Nevilles” (as he described them) defeated their much more fancied opposition 3-0. Sitting in the lounge room of the Humphreys’ Family homestead in Ipswich images of Billy Moore screaming “Queenslander”, Brett Dallas running away to score under the posts in Melbourne and Trevor Gillmeister leading Queensland into the last game when we all knew he was crook sent chills up the spine. Even now as I sit here writing this I get the chills.
That was a series Queensland was given no chance to win by anyone and yet despite all of the disadvantages put in front them prevailed against all odds. That win meant so much to me, my father, my mates and anyone else I spoke to and for the first time I really realized how much it means to Queenslanders to beat New South Wales.
I am not going to get into the usual banter about which state is better: the fact is that I am biased and it is impossible for me to answer impartially. What I am going to say is that the “hatred” between the supporters of the two States is, to me, what continues to make these series of State of Origin games what they are. For weeks before game one, the best of mates will be sniping at each other about their respective teams chances and, with the advent of mobile telephony, there seems to be not a moment in the game that goes past that does not lead to a text message or a tweet directed at the opposition teams supports being received or responded to. Having attended two games in “enemy territory” in New South Wales proudly sporting my Queensland jersey I have felt (and heard) the disdain with which interloping supporters are considered with. Without that byplay between the respective groups of fans, I do not think the series would be what it is today.
It is important to recognise here though what I also consider to be the essence of State of Origin. It is the fact that for the period of the game and its preliminaries it truly is mate against mate from the players right through to the fans. Which, by extension means, that the following day we are all still mates no matter what the result. It is for this reason I have purposely put the word “hatred” in inverted commas during this post. Hate is a word easily bandied around but the fact is that we do not hate each other (as that word is meant to be used), we just hate losing to each other. It is just sport afterall.
With that, I look forward to 4 July when the third game of the present series reaches its crescendo at Lang Park and hope the best side wins: of course we all know that that team is Queensland. Let the banter begin!