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2006: A level playing field
The State of Origin has kicked off again on Wednesday, and, as usual, players, fans and administrators have stirred up some fresh controversies. The ARL got the ball rolling last year when they announced the third game of the 2006 series would be played in Melbourne. This was quite an announcement considering many commentators have suggested the southern capital doesn?t even deserve a team in the NRL, let alone one of the years highest profile fixtures.
There seems to be two types of people north of the Murray: those who don?t understand the majority of Victorians, and those who don?t care. Those who don?t understand constantly wonder how a state can claim they are the headquarters of Australian sport yet struggle to pull a decent crowd to even the highest quality Storm game. Those who don?t care usually fall into the ?why don?t we chuck ?em out of the comp? basket.
I?m happy to lay my cards on the table and state that I think it?s great that the Storm are in the competition, and that Game 3 is heading south this year. For a determined if not stubborn lot, Leaguies have given up on a lot of markets in the past ten years, no matter how poor the Storm?s crowds are, it?s surely better than surrendering another region to the AFL. And while their crowd average is small, the Storm fans seem less fickle than some other NRL teams.
Pro-Victoria or not, all fans may benefit from taking an Origin game to Melbourne. As seen in Wednesday?s clash, State of Origin games are becoming so close that home ground advantage has often become the greatest factor in who will win. In fact since 2000 home teams have won 14 times compared with 3 away wins. This of course has a flow on effect because each state takes turns each year in hosting two games. Since 2000 the team with the most home games has won two thirds of the series. So with such a clear advantage, the team with two home games can always carry extra confidence into their Origin campaigns. This year however no team has such an advantage, meaning the chances of a close series, and a potential Game 3 decider, has increased. Importantly this scenario provides what all sporting fans yearn for, a level playing field.
While I carry a high degree of optimism towards the remainder of the series the same couldn?t be said for the Queensland coach. Mal Meninga, who is not averse to the odd outlandish statement, claimed before Wednesday?s game that the Origin concept will be dead if the Maroons don?t win the series this year. While I understand he is only stirring up some controversy to rev up his players, he has placed a lot of pressure on their shoulders. Apart from that he has also insulted the fans of Rugby League at a time when their dedication and passion should be celebrated. Being from NSW I was always led to believe that Queenslanders live for State of Origin. Lang Park (I love calling it by its real name this time of year) is always sold out in minutes, and TV ratings reflect the fact that the far majority of Queenslanders love watching the series. Meanwhile, NSW doesn?t exactly seem bored with the concept either. In fact Origin receives the media exposure, ratings and crowds that other codes dream about. And that?s not to mention the exposure the Australian game receives in international markets such as the UK, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea (last year TV sales climbed in PNG during the Origin series due to many losing Queensland fans throwing their TV into the ocean!).
So for Meninga to say the concept is one game from extinction is not just incorrect, but it?s an insulting and inappropriate comment for this time of year. If he truly believes the concept is on its last legs, he of all people has the influence to do something positive to ensure its long term survival. In fact if he feels that Queensland must win to ensure the survival of Origin, surely his time could be better spent coaching his team, rather than using the media to place unwanted pressure on them. Or maybe Meninga?s already worried he may be the next Origin coach to become extinct.