Where Should State of Origin Fit Into the NRL Calendar?

With Origin over for another year, NothingButLeague decided to examine some alternative timelines.

The current format is Wednesday night Origins and three five-game NRL split rounds. Injuries to key players have seen some suggesting a shakeup. The problem with split rounds is Origin-heavy clubs have to play at least one game with a weakened team. And from a fan’s point of view, watching a round of understrength teams isn’t that appealing, even though you get heart-warming stories of young players making their NRL debut.

So what are the alternatives?

NRL BYES/REP ROUNDS

The recent Rep Rounds before the Sunday night Origin II were a big success, with plenty of great footy: including age group Origin, Women’s Origin, and Pacific Tests.

So why not bring it back?

In the weekends leading up to Origin, you could have age group Origin on Thursday nights, Women’s Origin on Friday nights (a three-game series), and a Pacific Tests double-header on Saturdays (involving Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and PNG). You could turn the Pacific Tests into a quadrangular tournament, with each side playing three games, and a first-past-the-post winner.
Then have Origin on either Sunday nights or (most likely) Wednesday nights. If you wanted to be radical, you could have Saturday night Origins (with the Pacific Tests on Sundays), but Channel 9 would complain that ratings wouldn’t be as good, despite it being more convenient for fans (and pubs and clubs would cash in from all the Origin parties). The NRL would resume the following weekend, with two or three full rounds before the next Origin.

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A THREE-WEEK ORIGIN

While this was tried (out of necessity) in 2020, it could be adapted to mid-season. Suspend the NRL for three weeks in June and/or July, name extended Origin squads to cover for injuries or suspensions, and have all the above lead-up games. This allows players to focus on the series in their dedicated Origin camps and not worry about backing up for their clubs. And players not involved in Origin or rep footy get a nice break to prepare for the second half of the season.

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END OF SEASON 

Another idea tried out of necessity during Covid-19, playing Origin after the NRL Grand Final doesn’t seem as sustainable. While it again allows Origin players to focus on the series without any club obligations (and with most players involved in finals, they’ll still be match fit), a post-season Origin eats into International football (and future World Cups). If Test footy is to survive, it needs that October/November window.

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