Forget the Socceroos. Tonight you can watch a side in action that really can claim to be one of the world’s great sporting teams. From 7.30pm eastern, Queensland’s State of Origin team will attempt to seal its fifth series win on the trot, in Origin’s 30th anniversary year.
Many in the north-eastern states won’t need to be told of the significance of this achievement — the last game broke ratings records on the strength of that audience. Those in the south and west should take the opportunity to watch these guys in action while they’re still playing for something. We may not see their like again.
The imminent retirement of captain Darren Lockyer and veteran prop Steve Price (who’s presently injured), and the defection of Israel Folau to AFL, a golden age may be concluding, which has arguably outshone Queensland’s early Origin years featuring the likes of Wally Lewis, Allan Langer and current Queensland coach Mal Meninga. He’s taken a team of outstanding individuals and coaxed them to play a surprisingly straight-forward brand of football in which their brilliance can combine. In particular, the halves combination of Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston has been deadly.
Sadly it only has at most 160 minutes left to run. Even sceptical Aussie Rules fans should be keen to watch Folau run around in the game he was born to play before Sheeds buries him in the GWS’s defensive line.
The game will take on something extra in the wake of Andrew Johns’ racial comments, which — to his great credit — led Timana Tahu to leave the NSW camp. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think of Anthony Mundine’s claims of perennial racism in NSW selections.
What’s certain is that Queensland’s successes are built on the skills of some extraordinary indigenous and Polynesian-Australian talent — Folau and Thurston, but also Sam Thaiday, Willie Tonga and Greg Inglis.
In 30 years, Origin has changed. The concept was developed in the shadow of the Joh era, to breathe life into interstate clashes that were unbalanced by the Sydney league’s money luring Queenslanders south. We cane toads thought of it as a score-settling exercise, offering temporary relief from the burden of the chip on our collective shoulder. Now Queensland is modern and confident, and the sport is national, corporatised and professional. The feeling is still there, but you don’t have to bleed blue or maroon to enjoy the spectacle of 30 of the country’s best athletes engaged in the world’s hardest contact game.
If you tune in, you might get some sense of what a sold-out Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium in the new money) is like in full throat. Since the big Sydney games moved out to the soulless megadrome at Homebush, Lang Park is the closest league has to a spiritual home. Judicious use of the home theatre will have you immersed in “the Cauldron”, and for those wanting to test new-fangled 3D tellies, you can throw your glasses on and watch the game come alive.
The details: Channel Nine will broadcast game two of the State of Origin series from 7:30 tonight. The game kicks off soon after 8 o’clock.