If you could bottle up the spirit of State of Origin and sell it, you would become a billionaire. Imagine cruising on the Amalfi coast on the finest yacht in the northern hemisphere with the Roosters grand final starting 13 as your personal butlers. Think of the possibilities, Jake Friend as your footrest and James Tedesco the yacht’s captain.
However, I think we have come as close to the secret formula than we ever have before. As tried with the original concept of the All Stars match with the Indigenous players up against the NRL All Stars who were there more for the pay day and a weekend on the Gold Coast than to celebrate the Indigenous community in the NRL and Rugby League. The World All Stars was a step forward but still lacked the same desire to make it a competitive match up against players who are playing for their family verses the best players in the world who are not injured in mid-February from off season surgeries
Things looked bleak for the future of the unofficial season opener especially when the NRL would not go ahead every year to limit player burnout. It was often the first feature to be cut if the season started to look too jam packed. The problem with this was as soon as the game began to gain some traction, it was quickly lost due to year off. And as we all know, a week is a long time in Rugby League let alone a whole calendar year.
We fell in love with the spirit and support that Tongans showed during the 2017 World Cup. The fans, the colour and the passion were second to none. Only State of Origin can beat that sort of sceptical. At last we had something to take Rugby League to the next level. Nothing but shattered dreams when it comes to the NRL opener taking place in Los Angeles or a hybrid match between the Wallabies and the Kangaroos to finally prove who is the superior Rugby force in Australia.
Along comes the announcement with a long overdue revamp of the concept. The indigenous All Stars will now come up against the New Zealand Maori Kiwis. Finally, a worthy opponent to challenges the Indigenous boys not just physically and skilfully but spiritually. The clash of cultures will explode all over AAMI Stadium in Melbourne that those AFL loving hacks won’t know what hit them. But I’m a dreamer and a realist at the same time. I had to restrain myself from screaming from the rooftops when I heard this match was going to happen.
I am a little disappointed that this game is happening in Melbourne instead of Rugby League heartland like Brisbane or Western Sydney or even Auckland. This could be the start of something special at the start of the NRL calendar. The Indigenous boys will bring the fire as they also do but this time, they have an equally driven competitor in the Maoris. Bringing their own family values, history and heritage to the field and laying it all on the line for themselves and for our entertainment.
State of Origin started with less promise and even the late great Jack Gibson thought it wouldn’t work. Jack wasn’t wrong about much, but it was got terribly incorrect about Origin. The feeling of Origin game day when you woke up on that Wednesday and spoke about it to your colleagues and school friends about who will win and who will throw the first punch. We now have something to rival the pinnacle of the game and get excited about Rugby League in February.
It came to no surprise when I heard the news that Latrell Mitchell has turned down the Roosters World Club Challenge match to crown them the official World Champions (they already are according to American football fans in Atlanta) and select the Indigenous All Stars instead. It shows how much it means to them. This wasn’t just a glorified trial match with players pulling out left, right and centre but a chance for players to showcase their skills in an open free flowing field and proudly represent their brothers in arms. Latrell has won a comp, played for NSW and Australia all in one year but expect him to step up and shine in a way that NRL or other representative footy wouldn’t allow him too.
My prediction is a fast paced and brutal encounter with the Indigenous All-stars winning in a tight match. Latrell for man of the match but Rugby League will be the real winner at the end of the night.
A full time part time Rugby League nut