I?ve been a Queensland supporter for as long as I can remember. Since 1992 I?ve watched State of Origin religiously. I recall cheering on Steve Renouf and Allan Langer, two of my early favourites; I remember the excitement I felt when my Granddad gave me a ball that he had persuaded Langer to sign, circa 1993; and I remember the euphoria of one classic sporting moment in particular- Mark Coyne?s try in the first game of the 1994 series. We all have favourite Origin memories; we all remember big hits, biff and brilliance, and we?ve all experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. In my case, however, it?s a bit different, because I?m not a Queenslander; I?m a born and bred Kiwi. And to make matters worse, my Grandma is from Sydney.
It?s strange really, because I?ve always been well aware that I?m ? New South Welshman, but up until last year it never occurred to me that my support of the Maroons made no sense. I even played for NSW in Forum 7s in a vain attempt to stir up some state pride. Nothing really worked- I enjoy the spectacle of Origin, but deep down I want the Maroons to win. Perhaps naively, I still see them as the perennial underdogs, and expect them to play with more pride and passion than their all-star rivals. Perhaps I see the same underdog qualities in the Maroons that I see in the Kiwis (no, I?m not just referring to Tonie Carroll and Brad Thorn) while NSW are the smug, confident superstars Kiwis sometimes perceive as representative of Australia as a whole. Of course, if the Kiwis could ever match the Maroons? 50/50 record, the comparison would be much more apt.
The details of my personal story are really by the by. The point is, New Zealanders LOVE Origin, to an extent that is quite unusual. Sure, it?s a great sporting contest, but that fails to fully explain our fervour. In a recent interview Steve Price expressed surprise at the way in which his Warriors team-mates, many of them internationals themselves, psyched themselves up for Origin like fans, perpetuating their childhood awe of the game and the gladiators involved, even though most have been playing with and against the same players for years. For all of our protestations that it unfairly takes precedence over internationals, Kiwi league fans simply cannot resist Origin. Unlike Australian fans, who are naturally occasionally cynical about selection procedures, or who question whether the game has lost some of its lustre, most people I know look forward to Origin with unfettered enthusiasm. Very few are neutral- most support a team based on something half-remembered from childhood, something that caught their attention in the first game they watched, possibly even something passed down from their parents. I support Queensland partly because my Dad always has, which is particularly dubious, since he is ? Kiwi, ? New South Welshman. Origin, I think, is both played and supported with the heart and not the head. There is something universal about the binary opposites that are Queensland and NSW. All rugby league fans are intrinsically either Cockroaches or Cane toads at heart.
Inevitably, I must question why New Zealand has no alternative to Origin. A North v South rugby union match would probably be a major crowd-puller, and Auckland v Canterbury matches already have a NSW v Queensland feel to them- a culture clash between latte sipping city slickers and sheep-shagging Cantabs. My suspicion is that this would not work in rugby league, because the sport lacks the cultural and social diversity in New Zealand. No one would ever accuse the Warriors? Auckland-born players of being latte-sippers. The league community in New Zealand is tight and necessarily nationalistic; the general feeling is that a concerted effort is required just to keep league in a position of relative prominence. There is simply no room for internal rivalries, because New Zealand rugby league fans are such a tightly knit group. The rather bizarre result is that the average Kiwi league fan enjoys 3 major rivalries; Kiwis v Kangaroos, Warriors v everyone, and NSW v Queensland. Maybe this is a sad indictment on league?s lack of penetration into our national psyche; regardless, Origin is entrenched in Kiwi culture, and one suspects this will never change, regardless of what the future holds for the game here. So, in the meantime, GO THE MAROONS! Or, ummm, the Blues.
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