Victorian football fans experienced something unique last weekend, the opportunity to cheer for Jonathon Brown, Adam Goodes, Ryan Oâ€™Keefe, Daniel Bradshaw and Luke Power, and it was sensational. Almost 70,000 fans turned out at the MCG for a match that had no backbone, it had no soul, it was without consequence, it undeniably lacked heart. Imagine how supported the concept would be if it actually mattered. But how can we make it matter?
State of Origin essentially died in 1987 and again in 1991. Well perhaps death is an over-estimation, but it was certainly shifted to the emergency room. The West Coast Eagles played their first season of VFL football in 1987 and the Adelaide Crows started participating in the AFL in 1991. When these two clubs were spawned from proud and entrenched footballing regions, they predominantly consisted of players from their respective states and competitions. The South Australian State of Origin teams at the time were primarily Adelaide Crows players, and similar for the Eagles in WA.
Thanks to the ongoing operation of the national competition, and more pertinently a national drafting system, State of Origin is only now, again relevant. Saturday evening took a small step towards reminding us all of this. Youngsters with AFL dreams in their hearts are sent right around Australia in the hope that one day they will be a part of the sportâ€™s absolute elite. When that day arrives they deserve that opportunity to represent the State where they grew up, the State they may have been forced to move from, their State of origin.
So why the hesitation? What are we waiting for? Well, I believe we are waiting for the right system, the best structure. And finally it is here, I have it for you, (as Fat Boy Slim would say) right here, right now.
I conducted a comprehensive SMS poll while on air the day after the Hall of Fame Tribute Match and 76% of listeners thought that the game was a success. This percentage was much more lopsided than I believed it would be. The fans embraced the wishy-washy concept. A game of football where the result did not really matter was proven to flourish. Maybe it was a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, but maybe it was something more.
With all of this said, with the exception of one Australian state – it was certainly not State of Origin.
I am confident that the only way to bring back the Big V and true State of Origin is to play one game every season during the AFLâ€™s halfway point split round. It would be popular, profitable, passionate, anticipated and traditional. It would be nothing short of remarkable.
My original thought was to play Vic v SA every year. One year at AAMI and the next year at the MCG. However, I have since revised my narrow minded thinking. Despite what I have said on air and to some of my mates, I do not believe that an Australian Rules â€˜State of Originâ€™ concept can ignore WA. So I propose playing a rolling three team State of Origin setup that still only provides one â€˜State of Originâ€™ match every season.
2009 @ MCG Vic v SA
2010 @ AAMI SA v WA
2011 @ Subiaco WA v Vic
2012 @ AAMI SA v Vic
2013 @ Subiaco WA v SA
2014 @ MCG Vic v WA
2015 @ MCG Vic v SA
2016 @ AAMI SA v WA
2017 @ Subiaco WA v Vic
2018 @ AAMI SA v Vic
2019 @ Subiaco WA v SA
2020 @ MCG Vic v WA
And so on….
Advantages of this system include:
Each of the three State teams participate only twice every three years which will maximise the anticipation, promotion and excitement surrounding each of the upcoming matches. With South Australia only getting the chance to knock off Victoria once every three years, and only playing them in Adelaide once every six years, the demand for victories and for tickets would be unprecedented. These matches would become genuine showcase events on the football calendar. Can you imagine the TV ratings, and the price of the rights, for games like Victoria playing at AAMI and at Subiaco beamed live back into Melbourne?
Each of the three State teams participate only twice every three years which will reduce the physical influence on State Representative players. A maximum of two extra games per three seasons is an increase of just 3% playing time over the three years, even less if the State level players participate in AFL Finals, which almost all of them would over a three year span. Additionally, coaches and other team managers at the AFL clubs would know well in advance, years in advance, when their players might be called for State duties and when they will not.
The players themselves will start to appreciate â€˜State of Originâ€™ for what it is, and that is a privilege not a money-spinning gimmick. As the traditions are revitalised players will surely grasp the chance to represent their State with full enthusiasm, if not immediately, then after a few years of this new structure. With the opportunity only presenting itself twice every three AFL seasons, the players will understand that their chance to play alongside and against the best of the best may quickly pass them by.
State pride will thrive. EJ Whitten played for Victoria 29 times, and although under my proposed setup this will never occur again, players accumulating State Games (or caps) will be a respected and sought after addition to any career playing resume. A player like Joel Selwood or Scott Pendlebury could play into their 30s and run out for Victoria seven or eight times, something they will proudly tell their grandchildren.
The quality of the football played during these State of Origin clashes will be of the absolute highest quality. If there is a desire to win, then football fans will be treated to the cream of the crop giving their all. That is what makes State of Origin successful in Rugby league and also what used to make it so popular in Aussie Rules.
Disadvantages of this system include:
There will obviously be an unavoidable and slight increase in injury possibilities.
Coaches and medical staff who are of the current mindset that proclaims club football over State Representation will still attempt to have their marquee players dodge extra non-club football contests. Nevertheless, I think the recent Hall of Fame Tribute Match showed us all how accommodating the clubs can be, and again we are referring to only an absolute maximum of two games every three years.
As Rugby League has shown the sporting world, a significant amount of the success of State of Origin is a result of the Club versus State prioritisation. In AFL circles there would need to be a shift in thinking, an adjustment of cultural precedence. The clubâ€™s would remain reluctant to lay idle while their superstars pull on their respective State jumpers, but eventually it will grow to become a small and unavoidable part of their season planning.
Current thoughts regarding State of Origin are that we need to identify a winner each calendar year, and this is simply not necessary. If Western Australia travels to the MCG and defeats Victoria then that is definitely a victory worth savoring, there would be no doubting who would own the resultant bragging rights.
There will undoubtedly be perpetual trophies, three in total, one for each State rivalry.
The main advantage of this new setup is that, unlike many other ideas regarding the bringing back of State of Origin, it is simply not plausible to play multiple non-club matches in the middle of an AFL season.
I also suggest that the AFL should operate a similar competition for the remaining three Australian States. New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania could participate in their own State of Origin matches utilising the same format. Each of their three State teams could play twice every three years as well. I would suggest even scheduling these matches on the Saturday Afternoon with the top tier State of Origin being played on that same Saturday Night.
ow I would definitely tune in to watch a NSW team wearing their sky blue jumpers taking on the maroon of a Queensland team hungry to beat them. The most interesting aspect of these games would be the participating players that most AFL followers would not know. Initially, we would be exposed to players that are yet to make an AFL appearance. Footy fans would be witnessing the best players from the countryâ€™s developing football States, some of them plucked directly from the State leagues with an opportunity to play with and against some of the best playerâ€™s in the world. It would be insightful, inspirational and educational for these up and coming footballers.
These â€˜second tierâ€™ State of Origin matches would represent an excellent opportunity for young un-drafted hopefuls to show what they can offer, as well as allowing some of the sportâ€™s later bloomers to be witnessed by top level AFL scouts and coaching staffs. It would accelerate development of the players from these lesser football States. Plus, it would generate extraordinary levels of anticipation in those regions as the hometown supporters await Nick Riewoldt to grace the Gabba as a member of their home team, or Matthew Richardson slotting goals in front of a rampant Tasmanian contingent.
This means that players from the Northern Territory and the ACT will miss out on State of Origin entirely, however the line needs to be drawn somewhere. The Irish and the Islander footballers are being overlooked as well, but remember that none of these regions are States of Australia and probably, therefore, should not be involved in State of Origin after all. If this concept is proven successful then perhaps we will see a Territory of Origin match in the future between the NT and ACT.
One thing for certain is that State of Origin of this format will make a profit. Hence, I am also of the belief that a significant percentage of the funds raised from re-introducing State of Origin need to go directly into the pockets of the players (and coaches) putting on the show. This will add incentive for these individuals to be involved and will reward them for their time and efforts, while the overall earning potential of many at AFL level will be increased. Plus, this will provide another avenue of revenue for the sportâ€™s elite, which many people frown upon. However, I am of the opinion that our nationâ€™s sporting greats should be earning as much as they can while their short careers are thriving.
The second financial commitment needs to be made to grass roots football programs and the third to a variety of wonderful worthwhile charities. Additionally, with the funds raised from hosting these considerably significant events, then venues like Subiaco and AAMI Stadium might have the chance to improve their facilities and capacities.
The time is right to rejuvenate State of Origin football in this country, for this code. As Brendan Gale said on SEN, â€œif the players and coaches went to the AFL indicating their support for State of Origin then the League would probably be very accommodating.â€ However, that question remains, will they? I think the carrot dangled by the Hall of Fame Tribute Match, the opportunity to play for Victoria, proved to be a successful lure for many of the gameâ€™s highest profile players. It is time to dangle that carrot regularly (twice every three years), the players will love it and the fans will love it, even if the club coaches do not.
Oh yeah, and after each of these once-a-season games, let the kids have a kick of the footy on the field!