On Tuesday, July 8, 1980, Queensland and New South Wales played the first State of Origin game at Lang Park.
NSW had dominated interstate football since 1908 (a total of 159 wins to 54; and 45 series wins to 11), and fans were getting bored. Queenslanders were sick of seeing their best players – playing for rich Sydney clubs in the NSWRL – wearing sky blue. Something had to be done, with Queensland pushing for the Origin format (which had been used in the VFL since the 70s) to be introduced.
NSW had easily won the first two interstate games in 1980, which allowed the Origin match to be played, with proud Queenslander Arthur Beetson leading the Maroons onto Lang Park (he would coach the Maroons from 1981-84 and 1989-90). Queensland won 20-10 and showed that Origin could be taken seriously. They won the second stand-alone game in 1981 (22-15 at Lang Park), with Origin becoming a three-game series from 1982.
Forty years later, Origin is still the hallmark of rugby league: even though COVID-19 meant the 2020 edition will be played in November (including the first ever game at Adelaide Oval), it’s still an important series, and the popularity of year’s edition (especially with TV ratings) may decide if Origin stays as an end-of-season fixture after the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
For those interested in stats, Queensland have won 62 games to 53, with 23 series wins to 15. A full breakdown of results (from 1982 to 2019) can be found here.
A big part of Origin’s success was Queensland’s 80s domination, winning six out of the eight series from 1982 to 1989. It took NSW until 1985 to win their first series. Led by Steve Mortimer, they won game one 18-2 and game two 21-14. They backed it up in 1986 with their first clean sweep, although it was a tight series, with six points the biggest winning margin. Queensland closed out the decade by winning eight of the next nine games (with clean sweeps in 1988 and 1989), though NSW won the American “exhibition” game in 1987, which is remembered for Peter Sterling getting stuck in the banner. Queensland’s 16-12 win in game two, 1989, was an early contender for an Origin classic: the Maroons wrapped up the series despite losing Allan Langer (broken leg), Mal Meninga (fractured eye socket), Paul Vautin (elbow injury), and Michael Hancock (bruised shoulder). Wally Lewis – known as the “Emperor of Lang Park” – scored a memorable solo try to seal the win.
With the Maroon-heavy Brisbane Broncos and Canberra Raiders dominating the NSWRL in the early 90s, Queensland should have kept dominating Origin too. However, NSW started to find their feet, with six series wins to Queensland’s three, and one drawn series. The catalyst was Phil Gould coming on as Blues coach: hated with a passion by most Queenslanders, he led to Blues to a series hat-trick (1992-1994), before the game was ripped apart by the Super League war.
Queensland still had some memorable moments:
- Winning the 1991 decider at Lang Park, which turned out to be Lewis’ final Origin game. Lewis quickly moved into coaching, guiding the Maroons in the 1993 and 1994 series’
- Mark Coyne’s miracle try to steal game one of the 1994 series
- Coming from nowhere to win the 1995 series 3-0 under new coach Paul “Fatty” Vautin
- Tonie Carroll’s miracle try to steal game one of the 1998 series.
Queensland’s 1995 win was arguably the biggest upset in Origin history. With Super League-aligned players banned, the Maroons lost their usual stable of Broncos and Raiders, as well as coach Wayne Bennett (who’d been selected to replace Lewis, and rivalled Gould as one of the best Origin coaches), with Vautin replacing him. While Vautin was a premiership-winning captain with the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (and played 22 Origins for Queensland), he was now known as the larrkin host of The Footy Show. NSW had a decent line-up of ARL loyalists, with Gould as coach. Even the most passionate Queenslander would have expected a comfortable Blues series win.
Nobody told Fatty that, as he guided his spare parts side to a miracle series win: Wayne Bartrim scored the only points in a 2-0 win in game one, then they won game two 20-12 at the MCG. Coming home to Lang Park, Queensland secured the clean sweep 24-16. The enduring moment of this series was Billy Moore’s famous “QUEENSLANDER” cry. Vautin would stay on as coach in 1996 and 1997, but would only win one more game as NSW won back-to-back series, including a clean sweep in ‘96.
When the game separated in 1997, Super League had a tri-series with Queensland, NSW, and New Zealand. With each team playing two games, NSW and Queensland qualified for the final in Brisbane (NZ lost both of their games). NSW won the final after 104 minutes, with Noel Goldthorpe kicking the deciding field goal.
Now under the reunited NRL, Queensland won in 1998 and retained the Origin shield with a drawn series in 1999.
The first decade of the 21st century started with NSW dominance, and then Queensland began their eight-series streak from 2006.
NSW comfortably won in 2000 (with the series secure, NSW humiliated QLD 56-16 in the final game, and Ryan Girdler scored 32 points), 2003, 2004, and 2005, with Gould coaching the Blues from 2002 to 2004.
Queensland won in 2001 thanks to Alfie’s shock return for the decider. He’d left the Broncos suddenly in 1999 and then played for Warrington (UK Super League) in 2000/01. He returned to Brisbane for a proper farewell in 2002, taking the Broncos to the preliminary final, and playing the full Origin series. He was named man of the match in the dramatic decider, as Dane Carlaw scored late to secure an 18-18 draw and keep the Origin shield in Queensland.
The next year, the NRL introduced the at-times controversial Golden Point extra time rule for regular season and finals games. Was this a coincidence? Queensland retained the Origin shield after the drawn series in 1999 and nothing was done about extra time, so there’s probably no “Blue bias” conspiracy theory here.
Now, onto the streak.
It started in game three, 2006. With the series tied 1-1, NSW were working the ball out of their own end before Darren Lockyer swooped on a loose Brett Hodgson pass to seal a Maroons win. It was arguably Lockyer’s greatest season, with the Origin win, an NRL premiership with the Broncos, and captaining Australia to a dramatic win in the Tri Nations final against New Zealand.
From 2007 to 2009, Queensland won six games out of nine, and they were only halfway there.
While Queensland continued their streak for the early part of the decade, NSW finally fought back as the 2010s closed. From 2010 to 2013, Queensland won nine from 12, including a clean sweep in 2010. The closest NSW got was in 2012, with a late Cooper Cronk field goal sealing the deciding final game at Lang Park. Queensland’s dominance was orchestrated by Johnathan Thurston, Lockyer, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday, and Brent Tate (to name a handful…). While NSW shot themselves in the foot plenty of times, this Queensland team was almost unbeatable.
Mal Meninga coached the Maroons from 2006–15, and paved the way for future Origin coaches: with no NRL head coaching commitments, Meninga was free to focus on Origin. This specialist coaching template continued with Brad Fittler (NSW: 2018–current), and Kevin Walters (QLD: 2016–19).
NSW broke Queensland’s streak in 2014, winning the first two games 12-8 and 6-4. Queensland blew away NSW 32-8 in the final game, proving that dead rubbers don’t exist for passionate Queenslanders. That win would start another run for the Maroons, with a hat-trick from 2015-2017, including a 52-6 win in the 2015 decider at Lang Park.
Speaking of hat-tricks, NSW are on the verge of their own, winning in 2018 and 2019. From 2018, the second game of series was held on a Sunday night during a stand-alone representative weekend (with women’s Origin on the Friday night, and Pacific Tests on the Saturday). The second game of 2019 was played at Perth’s Optus Stadium. The sell-out crowd of 59,721 surpassed the 2018 AFL preliminary final between the West Coast Eagles and the Melbourne Demons (59,608). The Origin record lasted less than two months, with 61,241 attending a Bledisloe Cup game in August.
NSW will be favourites in 2020, with all three Queensland teams missing the finals (even though the Titans came home with a rush to finish ninth). Bennett is back for the Maroons, replacing new Broncos coach Walters. Can the Blues continue their winning run, or will Bennett work his magic for another backs-to-the-wall series victory?