State of Origin triggers debate over War of the Roses and the international game

James Gordon
State of Origin 2023

Watching State of Origin gets us yearning for a northern hemisphere equivalent, that sadly feels further away than ever.

The clamour for a return of Yorkshire v Lancashire, last played 20 years ago, is misplaced. Sadly, it’s a rivalry that means very little to rugby league fans outside of Yorkshire these days.

Most of the clubs west of the Pennines haven’t been in Lancashire for the best part of 50 years. There is simply not that affinity to Lancashire that Yorkshire folk have for their county.

That would therefore make it a harder sell. It could work, but who knows. Eorl Crabtree made a good point on social media – had we stuck with it two decades ago, who knows where it might be now.

The reality is that it would be difficult to see how it gets re-established.

Maybe Yorkshire could simply play against a combined ‘other England’ team, or if there’s such interest in having a Yorkshire team, get them on tour! They could play St Helens, Warrington, Wigan, France, Cumbria, Jamaica, Championship Select!

Representative rugby league is at a real sticky point. There simply isn’t the competition for England to make internationals worthwhile – but coming up with a replacement format is not an overnight task.

The Exiles and Combined Nations All Stars concepts have been tried and haven’t set the world alight. Is there enough evidence to say if we stick with it, they will turn in to something? Not sure.

What rugby league doesn’t have currently is time (or money!). It would almost take a gamble of having five or 10 years to try something and see if it beds in – problem is, that is the exact opposite of what rugby league’s strategy has been for the past few decades.

State of Origin is not the reason the international game is stalling

There was criticism of Australia’s ‘insular’ approach to representative rugby league and how their prioritising of State of Origin has harmed the international game.

But is it their fault that they have made a commercial success out of State of Origin and that they want to keep it?

It shouldn’t be a this or that approach. Australia should be able to have and grow State of Origin, as well as the international game growing.

The problem is, no one outside of Australia appears to have any idea on how to grow or fund representative rugby league.

Yes, Australia need to be part of that. And yes, they haven’t played enough games in the past few years.

But the problem isn’t State of Origin. Too often rugby league approaches things as “this instead of that”. It needs to find a way of doing both. Sacrificing the success of State of Origin to ‘gamble’ on international rugby league without substance would be suicide.

Bigger games are officiated differently

State of Origin is famed for its intensity and in times gone by, the biff.

The dilution of aggression in the game in the name of player welfare, amidst a backdrop of worrying research relating to concussion and head knocks, doesn’t quite fit with the mantra of State of Origin.

Not that you’d have noticed with the little scuffle that occurred barely a few minutes in.

It’s hard to imagine that this incident wouldn’t have been punished with a card in Super League.

As is often the case in the big games, it appears that decisions are made differently to protect the ‘showcase’.

Be proud of what you’ve got

I couldn’t help but notice the sign on the Adelaide Oval scoreboard that read ‘sports greatest rivalry’.

While Australia might be isolated in the world, it’s doing rugby league right – something no-one else is.

How much responsibility they should take for what happens outside of Australia is open to debate.

Interesting point about opening up coverage to the wider world – but TV rights are valuable, and there’s no evidence yet to suggest that even having free to air coverage of rugby league’s biggest games will help it grow without the right foundations in place.

Anticipation building for NRLW

As well as the men’s State of Origin on Wednesday, there was a thoroughly enjoyable women’s State of Origin match held on Thursday, also won by Queensland.

There has been some criticism of it, due to it being held on a weeknight in Australia, meaning it was inaccessible to some fans.

The fact it is a two-game series rather than three has also raised eyebrows.

But the game itself was an entertaining one and a good showcase of the standard that the NRLW is likely to provide for the women’s game when it kicks off on July 22.

What struck me most about the game was how clean and tidy the play the balls were. The men’s game at times can descend in to who can get away with playing the ball as quickly as possible without the referee noticing a misdemeanour, so it was good to see the game played to the letter of the law.

Looking ahead to the next State of Origin game

There’s a fortnight or so until Game II of the men’s State of Origin series takes place in Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, and it’s already looking ominous for New South Wales.

The Blues have never come from an opening defeat to win games in Queensland and then New South Wales.

Their 26-18 defeat in the opening game saw them cop for criticism, and there will now be some analysis over Brad Fittler’s team selection for the second game.

Tom Trbojevic should be available following concussion, but he is unlikely to play another game before then, while Latrell Mitchell could be back from the calf injury that saw him sit out the opener.

Game II is on Wednesday June 21 before the final game on July 12 at Accor Stadium in Sydney.

MORE: Magic Weekend – Five things we learned: Magic Makinson, fantastic Hull & Yorkshire’s bleak Super League table