For the majority of the history of Australian Rugby League, New South Wales versus Queensland representative matches were a test of the relative current player pool in those two states.
If you were an Australian living in New South Wales, you played for the Blues. If you lived in Queensland, you played for the Maroons.
Because of the strength of the NSWRL competition (Which was the forerunner to the current NRL) Sydney clubs lured the best talent from all over Australia to play in NSW. This wasn’t a calculated move for any greater goal, they were just the best clubs in the game looking for the best players.
This however saw state clashes become very one sided.
Queenslands best talent was playing in the Sydney competition, and therefore, under the old rules, they had to represent the state of their residence, which was New South Wales.
Queenslanders got tired of this one sided beat down which saw many of their own born and raised players turning out in Blue jerseys to belt their home state. Out of the angst that come from this, the State Of Origin concept was born.
At first, it was a gimmick. A one off. However it took all of 80 minutes to cement State Of Origin as a series that would capture the imagination of the sporting public.
Finally, Queensland born and raised players could represent their home state. They did so with immense pride and passion. They loved playing for Queensland, and in many cases, playing for Queensland was the highest honour for them.
Fast forward to 2011.
Yesterday the Queensland Rugby League officially turned its back on the State Of Origin concept. It turned its back on Queensland’s, born and raised in the state. It turned its back on the dreams on of thousands of its own sons in the pursuit of self interest and greed.
Queensland coach Mal Meninga openly boasted of pressuring young New Zealand born and raised players to commit to playing for Queensland. He talked about Broncos youngster Josh Hoffman, who has already committed to playing for New Zealand, and how he would go out of his way to try and make him change his mind.
He talked about two youngsters in Canberra who he tried to convince to turn their back on New Zealand, and how he was having to work against the likes of Rubin Wiki and Quenton Pongia who had held talks already with these youngsters about playing for the nation of their birth.
He talked about the ones that “Got away”. New Zealand born and raised Karmichael Hunt, NSW born and raised Israel Folau, and current English born test center Jack Reed, none of whom are Queenslanders.
Just days after the tragic passing of Queensland great Arthur Beetson, the man credited with giving the State Of Origin concept the passion it still carries today, here we had the Queensland coach boasting about his focus to draft players from all over the Rugby League playing world into the Maroons State Of Origin system!
State Of Origin. The concept was to move away from representation based on your current residency.
Now, we have the Queensland Rugby League, not just going back on the Origin concept, but saying “Forget where you are from, or where you currently reside, if you have ever played in Queensland at some point, we’ll have you!”.
It flies in the face of everything State Of Origin was supposed to be about! In fact, it is worse than what was happening under the old residency representative rules!
For all the talk about the passion of playing for Queensland, we now have the Queensland coach talking to young boys who aren’t from Queensland, who aren’t even Australian, and who aren’t all that passionate about Queensland but like the idea of the possibility of three large match payments per year and playing in a series we ALL love to watch.
What ever happened to Queenslanders sticking together? What about the young Queensland kids who would give their right arm to play a single game in that Maroon jersey? Are the QRL and Mal Meninga saying Queenslanders are not good enough?
The pressure that is applied to youngsters playing in Queensland who aren’t actually from Queensland is grotesque. You only have to look at Jack Reed, who isn’t even an Australia, to see how it all happens.
A young bloke who comes out of no where and has an outstanding first season in the NRL. All year long he had to deal with former Origin greats in the media saying “We know he is English, but really, he should play for Queensland. He shouldn’t turn his back on the opportunity”.
Keep in mind, Reeds would be behind Justin Hodges, Willie Tonga and New South Wales born, raised and Origin eligible Greg Inglis.
They were pressuring him to commit to Queensland just so they had a bit of depth! He might never have played a State Of Origin game, they didn’t care, they just wanted to boost what they are calling the “talent pool”.
The Queensland Rugby League pushed out the line of “Only 23% of NRL players are eligible for Queensland so we need to do what we can”, and that just flies in the face of the Origin concept and history.
Back in that original State Of Origin game, the number of Queensland eligible players playing in the “big league” was probably closer to 23 players rather than 23%! That didn’t matter! Those players played their arses off and dominated the series for nearly a decade before New South Wales got its act together and stepped up to the plate.
The Rugby League landscape is changing rapidly. With the amazing influx of New Zealand and Pacific Island talent flooding the game, we now have a sport with more diversity than we have ever had.
With the no boarders development policy Rugby League has, that can see a young Kiwi, Tongan or Samoan player move to Australia, get elite training and coaching and realize a dream of playing in the NRL and providing for his family, we now have a set of circumstances that was not taken into account when the original State Of Origin rules were drafted.
We need State Of Origin eligibility rules to be reset.
Importantly, for the health of Australian Rugby League, we need to make sure that the State Of Origin series remains a proving ground for future Australian test players. It can’t just become an All Stars series. It can’t become a series based on residency at one time in a players life.
If Australia wan’t to become world champions in Rugby League once again, we have to value our own players. We have to nurture them. We have to protect their eligibility rights to play for their own state and their own country.
For the greater good of the game, we need to protect the very fabric of what it means to represent your own state and your own country. The handful of people that are served under the current relaxed eligibility rules is insignificant compared to the hundreds of thousands, if not, millions of fans who would cherish seeing the true value of State Of Origin and Test football in a number of countries restored.
Over the last 15 years we have seen eligibility rules eroded to the point where, in 2011, the Queensland Rugby League is openly turning its back on Queenslanders. That is wrong, and that is something that needs to be fixed by people who are not governed by self interest and greed.
We can only hope that the Independent Commission steps in and saves State Of Origin Rugby League before it is too late. The health of the game in Australia depends on it.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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