Queensland legend Arthur Beetson helped make State of Origin what it is today.
Queensland legend Arthur Beetson helped make State of Origin what it is today.

Why we should never forget Origin's birth

NEXT week's decider in Brisbane shapes as an absolute cracker, but it's wrong to tag the clash the biggest game in Origin history.

I can understand exclusive telecasters Channel Nine promoting the game that way, and the NRL too for that matter. The more hype the better - as exemplified by the Jeff Horn title fight at Suncorp Stadium last weekend.

But those with a vested interest should be careful not to forget the past. And this extraordinary State of Origin contest has a magnificent history.

I have been fortunate to have seen every single State of Origin match played since 1980. And until 2000 I saw them all live.

As a contest, there have been very few duds. The famous hand-grenade clash in Sydney in 2000 when the Blues won 56-16 will forever remain a disaster for Maroons fans, while the 56-6 thrashing Queensland handed to the Blues with the series on the line in 2015 will live long in the memory of those from south of the border.

But for mine, of the 110 matches played one will forever stand taller than the rest. And that was the very first game of this fantastic contest, played way back in July of 1980 - 38 years tomorrow, in fact.

Had that game been played in a Mickey Mouse spirit - and many naysayers believed it would - interstate rugby league was dead. NSW, usually with Queensland-born players in its ranks, had won 60 of the 70 matches played during the previous two decades.

In fact, such was the lethargy of Sydneysiders to the annual contests that for the game played two months before Origin I, a paltry 1639 patrons turned out at suburban Leichardt Oval to see the Blues win 17-7. The only crowd smaller was in 1910, so it was patently obvious the event was in its death throes.

Something had to be done, and that something was to give Queensland back its players. But that would only work if the returning Queenslanders were fair dinkum, and genuinely wanted to play the mate-against-mate card.

Mal Meninga, whose seven goals from seven attempts in that first Origin game were the difference between the teams, recently recalled how the Maroons prepared for the inaugural event.

Big Mal said the team gathered for a three-day camp two weeks before the clash and although it was obvious the returning stars were keen to don the maroon jersey - some for the first time - he had been somewhat apprehensive about whether their hearts were really in it.

But when they returned to Brisbane to prepare for the match, the mood was much different. Meninga said he knew the likes of Artie Beetson, Rod Reddy and Rod Morris were ready to play.

And while the brilliant careers of Meninga, Wally Lewis and Chris Close were literally hatched in that historic first match, it was Beetson and company, the old firm - which had inflicted pain on Queensland itself in earlier years - that made State of Origin what it is today.

Gus Gould might think next week's decider will be the "the biggest game of rugby league ever", but it would never have been played had it not been for Artie and his fellow Queenslanders in 1980.

News Corp Australia

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