The Sin Bin - Marvin France's take on the NRL
Game 1 between New South Wales and Queensland is still three weeks away but I’m already experiencing State of Origin overload.
It’s bad enough the annual interstate clash completely swamps the NRL for the six long, drawn-out weeks it takes to complete, yet it’s reached the point where NSW coach Ricky Stuart can’t even pick his nose without it being splashed in the Aussie press - and it’s been that way since round two.
Even last month’s Anzac Test couldn’t escape the glare following Kiwi-born prop James Tamou’s defection to Australia after being courted by the Blues hierarchy.
Heading into its 32nd year, Origin is still regarded as the pinnacle of the game - Down Under at least - and such media saturation would suggest it’s going stronger than ever.
But having become an enormously one-sided contest in recent years - the Maroons have dominated the past six years and show no signs of slowing down - I’m starting to question whether it’s worth all the fuss.
Queensland boss Mal Meninga is targeting 10 straight series wins and with the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Jonathan Thurston all in their prime, combined with the beleaguered Blues’ scattergun approach to selection, only a brave man would bet against him.
So is it really worth messing up such a large chunk of the season for the sake of a mere three games, particularly when the result is seen as foregone conclusion? NRL clubs would certainly have a decent argument for the negative.
They may be a victim of their own success, but Melbourne bosses must break out in cold sweats every time Smith, Slater and Cronk run out for Queensland, knowing all that time and money spent on development and wages could come to nothing in the space of one brutal tackle.
But it’s not just the Storm. Brisbane, Cronulla, North Queensland, the Dragons… most teams’ Premiership aspirations hinge on how they cope while their big guns are away and, more importantly, how said stars pull up after the Origin period - that’s how big a disruption it’s become.
And what about the impact on the standard of the regular season? The biggest club blockbuster of the year to date - the Storm v Broncos, two days after Origin 1 on May 23 - is almost certain to be ruined as the clubs rest their players in the battle against burn-out (and fair enough, too).
There’s also the argument that the NRL’s best aren’t necessarily jumping at the chance to join the Origin legacy. Benji Marshall, Kieran Foran and Sonny Bill Williams, to name a few, all had the chance to represent NSW or Queensland, and would’ve walked into either side, yet opted for New Zealand.
Tamou, it seems, was the exception, not the rule, and if this trend continues the series’ claims to be the pinnacle will surely come under threat.
The Aussie sports market is a competitive beast with rugby league competing against AFL, Super Rugby and the A-League for the hearts, minds and dollars of the public.
Indeed, Origin provides the sport with a huge point of difference - an all-star game that actually means something, and one which captivates audiences far beyond the confines of east coast Australia. And, yes, I’ll certainly be watching.
But for as long as NSW fail to put up a fight, and the NRL season continues to be disrupted to the extent it is, the question will continue to be asked - is it worth it?