They sell it as the greatest part of the year and the toughest contest in league. They sell it as the contest of mate against mate and brother against brother. Fans love it. Players love it. But State of Origin has a very negative impact on the regular season – an impact that fans, players and their coaches despise.
For one, a lot of the games played during the so called “Origin Period”, rounds twelve to eighteen, aren’t of the highest standard. Dragons 14, Cowboys 10. A team with a notoriously bad attack get to face one of the most efficient attacking teams in the league… but without the cogs and gears in the engine room that actually make them efficient and deadly. The team that was able to dispose of the Dragons 36-0 when they were at full strength played a game in which completions were high but enterprise was low, and so was the morale of the fans watching.
Punters argue that the Origin period is how the NRL evens out the draw. Why? Wayne Bennett and the Broncos were punished (“evened out”) just for having a successful squad. Losing six of their best players meant that their young forwards were dominated by the Tigers. Two of the Broncos that started the game normally play off the bench, and another was playing on debut. Plus, three of their bench players hadn’t played ten NRL games yet. The Broncos were ravaged by Origin, costing them a potentially invaluable two points.
Des Hasler and his Bulldogs went down to Canberra on Sunday already without their two form forwards on top of Will Hopoate. And then the call came from Daley that Josh Morris was required in the Blues camp. Reimis Smith was driven from Belmore after playing in the Intrust Super Premiership on Saturday, and to the young man’s credit he scored two tries on debut and was safe under the high ball. However, he only had seven hours – perhaps less – to gel with his inside man Curtis Rona. Des Hasler was planning on using Morris to contain one of the form centres in BJ Leilua, but instead had to use a centre/wing pairing who had never played with each other to defend against the strongest right edge in the comp.
But then we must rejoin the long skinny coach Wayne Bennett: Origin I is tomorrow, the Broncos are in New Zealand on Saturday to play the Warriors. Six Broncos who played in Origin will have to fly to NZ on the very next morning, all bruised and battled, if they would like to give the Broncos their pizzazz against a Warriors side expecting to be largely unaffected by the Origin period. Jacob Lillyman could play on the bench for the Maroons. But other than that the Warriors are untouched. It’s not often that Andrew McFadden’s situation is the desirable one and Wayne Bennett is in the red, but things are different at Origin time.
Later on that Saturday, the Panthers and the Storm meet in Melbourne. Josh Mansour and Matt Moylan have put their hats in the ring and will back up on Saturday. Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith are in no position to back up, elder statesmen who put their club’s success on hold for their state. Tohu Harris at seven and Kenneath Bromwich at nine don’t inspire confidence.
So what do we do about this? Easy. We designate some of the year to “Rep Season”. Instead of having this interrupted, piecemeal part of the season we suspend it completely for a month sometime in the middle of the year, round eleven or twelve. Origin matches are now on Saturdays, which gives the families more of a chance to go to games. In addition, there is a curtainraiser to each Origin game: a Samoa v Tonga, a Fiji v PNG, a City v Country, one before each of the Origin games. Instead of having an ANZAC Day Test we move that to after the finals.
But then isn’t the season too long? Player burnout?
Hm, now here’s the stinger. If we have this mid season rep period, we scrap the bye rounds and reduce the season to twenty four rounds. Coaches now have the ability to rest weary players at their discretion rather than when the draw says so – they might do it against a lesser team or they might do it when their spot in the eight is assured. But they do it when it suits them, and not when the Origin period forces their hand.
We love our State of Origin, and it doesn’t have to interrupt the season the way it does. Hopefully tomorrow we have a contest without injury or interruption, and clubs get through the middle of the year Origin period unscathed – what will it take for the NRL to help them do so?