Saturday, July 17, 2010

Origin....Does it matter to you?

For many years, the great North v South rivalry has been ongoing. Stereo types like ‘Southern softies’ and ‘shandy drinkers’ have been the comeback to endless amounts of abuse aimed at the ‘rough arse’ northerners who don’t wash and still wear flat caps and walk whippits.

Of course, most of it is said in jest and is a way of entering into friendly banter with people from differing regions of England. I used to think that things were no different in Australia. That is until I started to learn more about the rugby league tradition that is ‘State of Origin’. It is quite simply awesome.

Rugby league in itself, has grown on me. It’s a working class game with real men trading hit after hit, but never getting out of control. The players show absolute respect for the game and the officials (similar to pretty much every sport barring football) and it’s a great spectator experience. The NRL(National Rugby League) is a brilliant product, and is only surpassed by the Barclays Premier League for it’s excitement.

State of Origin is more than that though. It involves the best players that were born in New South Wales state taking on their Queensland counterparts in a three match series over nine weeks. Game one is usually in Sydney (NSW), then it’s up to Brisbane (QLD) for the Game two and back down to Sydney for the third (although it has in the past been taken to a neutral venue and the NRL are trying to do this on a regular basis.). NSW is the real heart of NRL as out of the sixteen teams in the league, ten are from that area.

So you can imagine the humiliation that residents of NSW are experiencing at the moment, having just lost a record fifth series in a row. The Telegraph newspaper declared ‘This is what it feels like to be dead’. They are devastated by the state of affairs.

The games themselves, are quicker and more intense than anything that you see week in week out in the NRL. Far more passion too it seems. It’s defending the honour of your state. Fighting for your people. And it usually boils over into brawls and scrapes. Brilliant to watch. And the best thing is that the fighting is completely confined to the pitch. Fans of both sides can sit side by side and take the piss out of each other without any aggro. It really is quite refreshing.

It got me to thinking of whether it could work in England. The North of England v South of England based on where the players were born or raised. Obviously the fact that players are on such high salaries that clubs would refuse to allow the players to play. So it’s all hypothetical. The fact is that within two minutes of me bringing the topic up with a couple of fellow ‘poms’ we were at war as to who would win.

Where is the line that divides us? Birmingham? Where would it be played? Who would pick the teams? Would anybody care?

All these questions were raised when ‘Origin’ was first talked about over thirty years ago. And now it’s THE event of the Rugby League calendar. Ahead of international tournaments and domestic honours. I’d love to see it introduced back home and whilst I can’t argue that the South would have the better team on paper…… I just think that ‘good old northern grit’ might prevail.

What do you think?