While it is great for New South Wales to finally win back the Origin shield, I think we would all admit that the standard of competition in the NRL has dropped a little bit.
Origin is the pinnacle of the game and for some great servants (e.g. Paul Gallen) who haven’t achieved premiership glory, it becomes like a grand final every time they step out in the N.S.W jersey. But what toll is Origin having on the fairness of the main competition?
First of all, NRL games have become easily predictable over the Origin break. In round eleven I tipped five from five, round thirteen I had eight from eight and round fourteen I tipped four from five. If you looked at my tipping results from the rest of the year you would know that I am no tipping genius. In an age where the salary cap has made the competition closer than ever, missing two or three marquee players can pretty much rule out your chances of winning.
The next issue is the bye schedule. Now I understand that this would be an incredibly difficult task to complete, and that the NRL do their best to comply with most teams requests, but it’s hard to deny that some teams get a better deal than others. Looking at the draw the key byes are those preceding an origin match. Origin stars are rested so if you are a team with no rep players then you can pretty much add two points to your tally. If your team is brimming with talent then those weekends are a nightmare. Is this simply the cost of success or does it make the competition uneven?
In 2014, seven teams have both their byes in rounds without rep players, while five teams have their byes both fall outside of these rounds. This can either give your team a disadvantage or an advantage, depending on who you support. The Warriors, who have byes in rounds fourteen and seventeen, would have loved to have games on both of those weekends as Jacob Lillyman is their only origin player. The Rabbitohs get to play these games and are only missing Greg Inglis and even though he is a massive loss other teams are missing much more talent. On the other side of the spectrum The Bulldogs have games in all three origin effected rounds, with both of their halves unable to play (and also Tony Williams and Josh Morris for round eleven).
Having already lost in round eleven and round fourteen it’s no wonder that Des Hasler is blowing up about the unfairness of the draw. With a round seventeen match up against the table topping Manly side, (who will likely be missing just Cherry-Evans for origin three) Canterbury are looking at three losses from three for origin effected rounds in 2014.
The draw will never be equal with teams not playing each other the same amount of times. While this is an issue, it’s not an easy one to fix. That’s why we should focus on what is fixable and that is Origin. As much as I love origin on a Wednesday night, (probably because it is all I really know) it might be time to make the change to ensure the NRL season doesn’t become so predictable and subpar for nine weeks in the middle of every year. Whether that be having Origin on three consecutive weekends, like Wayne Bennett suggests, or coming up with another solution, 2014 should be the year that marks the end of fans having to pay good money to see their team play minus their biggest stars.