State of Origin, to an outsider

For at least four weeks now the two major NSW papers – the Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph – have seemingly been in competition for the most column inches printed on the upcoming three-game State of Origin series.  There is no hint of neutrality as they also go head-to-head in the contest for most fervent support of the Blues.  After six successive series losses to the Maroons of Queensland, the desperation for NSW success is giving over to intense media scrutiny of every minor facet of the teams.  As a Pom who arrived in Sydney soon after the 2010 series, the obsession with rugby league in these parts still bewilders.

In England, rugby league is the sole preserve of purists residing in a few towns and cities either side of the Pennines.  Coming from the south coast, I almost never had any exposure to the game, bar the odd Challenge Cup game on Grandstand and the often one-sided international Tests between GB/England and Australia.  It always seemed to me to be the ugly cousin of the two rugby codes, even in the days when union was an amateur game.  Being down under, I have been more intrigued about the completely alien Aussie Rules footy code.

The 2011 NRL season opened my eyes a bit, but not totally, to the merits of league.  I adopted the St. George-Illawarra Dragons towards the end of their 2010 comp-winning season.  This was not glory-hunting, but a happy coincidence as my father-in-law to be was born in Rockdale and was a St. George die-hard.  I had never been in a position of supporting a title-winning team in any sport before and found the whole experience rather eerie – but that’s another story.  Fortunately, the Dragons ‘did a Spurs’ and sank back to the middle of the pack in 2011.  However, I was only able to catch one SoO game, and that was on a small screen at the end of a crowded pub.  This year, I plan on intently watching the lot.

It’s accepted wisdom that Origin is the pinnacle of the sport.  Where titans come to clash and speed, skill and bravery are at their most acute.  Well, that’s what I’ve been taught by the overzealous media coverage I’ve been subjected to.  The coverage is reminiscent of English tabloids working themselves into a lather before a major football championship.  Sport inspires passion and it’s exciting to be exposed to it in a different culture.

The first game is tonight.  I have the house to myself and a six-pack to devour.  For game two I shall be going to the ANZ stadium, on my birthday, and seeing up close what it all means to the Blues supporters.  Hopefully, this game will clinch the series for NSW.  With the likes of Thurston, Slater, Cronk, Inglis, Thaiday and Cameron Smith in the Queensland line-up, I have my doubts.

Come on you Blues.

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