Off the Wall

One of Mal Meninga's most enduring qualities is that he always says it exactly how he sees it.

His comments yesterday about the so called "underdog" status in tonight's Origin contest are entirely consistent with that - and welcome.

Anyone who has the privilege of knowing Mal well - as I do - will accept as genuine his assertion that there is "not a struck match" between the Maroons and the Blues tonight.

The betting agencies  have the Maroons the "underdog" but that is entirely due to the weight of money, not the relative strength of the two teams.

The reality is that there has hardly been "a struck match" between the two sides over the 30 glorious years of State of Origin football.

Earlier this week I listed some stats which confirm just how close the sides have been. There would be few team competitions in the world that would be so evenly matched in every respect over three decades.

The Maroons have won the last four series in a row, but that disguises just how close State of Origin has been. And just how close I suspect it always will be.

Over the last three decades any number of factors has been at play in determining the outcome of games - referees and luck among them.

The late Barry Gommersall was once asked how it was that the Maroons lost two matches he refereed. "I had a couple of off nights" was his reply. And he was probably only half joking!

He was one of the great characters of the early years of Origin. Over the years, the closeness, and seriousness, of the contest has tended to weight against individual characters, and that is a pity.

Rugby league is at its best when it has an abundance of characters, and even has the odd referee or two in that category. Greg Hartley did the game no harm, nor did Bill Harrigan when he was at it flamboyant best. But the dual referee system will probably mean that won't happen again.

Putting the referees aside, another influential factor is the weather. And there is every indication it will be at play again tonight.

It is difficult to assess which side will have most to gain from a wet track. But if the experts who suggest the Blues are stronger in the forwards while the Maroons are stronger in the backs are right then the wet track may well favour the Blues.

And speaking about just how even the contest has been, the Daily Telegraph's Phil Rothfield today lists his top 50 Origin players over the last 30 years - and there are 25 from each state.

However, seven of the top ten are Maroons, and six of the current Maroons team are in the top 50. Just one current Blues player, Jarryd Hayne, makes the top 10.

In other competitions, that would probably make the Maroons short priced favourites.

The fact that it hasn't, and won't, just vindicates my long held view that Origin - across its history - is about an even a contest and you can imagine.

Long may it remain so!

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