Tonight’s State of Origin match at Lang Park is a test
of the credibility and drawing of Origin football.

The Maroons coach, Mal Meninga, is
exaggerating (no doubt in order to fire up his team) when he says the future of
Origin is in danger, but rugby league desperately needs either a Maroons
victory or an outstanding match for State of Origin to retain the unique
“character” that has seen it achieve extraordinary ratings for the last 26
years.

If the Blues win tonight – as I expect they
will – a new Origin record will be created. No state has won four Origin series
in a row since the series began in 1980. If it happens, it’s not the kind of
record league officials will be celebrating.

State of Origin’s success
has been based on the remarkable closeness of the contests year after year. But
the Blues’ dominance in recent years has had a deadening effect on the
spectacle. In fact, since Wally Lewis retired the ratio has been close to three
to one in the Blues favour.

(As I write, a major scandal is unfolding
with the discovery that the Wally Lewis statue outside Lang Park has been
painted in Blues colours overnight. That will get the headlines today – even if
it turns out to be no more than a rather smart stunt.)

Living in Brisbane you get
used to the Lang Park Origin game dominating the media. Not so this year. The
interest in the World Cup is immense, especially among the section of the
community both the NRL and the AFL need to keep on side – young men and women who have been crowding
every pub and club in the country watching the World Cup in the wee small
hours.

The pressure on the Maroons to win from
their own supporters is without precedent. But this
time the Blues have had the uninterrupted preparation while the Maroons have
had all the injury worries.

If the Maroons can overcome that – and all
the pressure put on them – State of Origin will be
given a much needed shot in the arm.

Peter Fray

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