State of Origin football is often regarded the toughest, most demanding, most emotionally-charged contest in Rugby League; it is an annual three-game battle played out between two groups of people hailing from either side of Australia's Rugby League heartland. In more than 100 Origin clashes played out over almost four decades, too often has the difference between success and failure been minute, where the result has been decided by a single play born out of nothing but desperation.
Desperation, too, was what brought about the concept's beginnings.
The interstate encounters between New South Wales and Queensland date back to 1908, when the southern rivals got the better of their opponents with an initial 43-0 thrashing. That match signalled the start of a 70-year era dominated by the side then nicknamed the Blues, which won more than 70% of games against the Queenslanders.
With the lack of competitiveness came the diminishing relevance of interstate Rugby League in the late 1970s, resulting in the conception of State of Origin, in which players were selected on the state they were initially from, rather than their current state of residence. Given the all-clear from the NSWRFL ahead of a dead-rubber 1980 clash, Queensland demonstrated their competitiveness with an early win, giving credibility to what soon became an annual three-match series.
In the decades since, the State of Origin Shield has travelled across borders on multiple occasions as both states have enjoyed periods of success. The Origin history books are filled with treasured memories for Blues fans: late match-winning tries to Mark McGaw in 1987 and 1991; the sights of Steve Mortimer kissing the SCG turf after the Blues' first series win in 1985, or a bloodied Benny Elias embracing his mum after the siren in 1992; the heated confrontations of Mark Geyer with Wally Lewis in 1991 and Terry Hill with Gordon Tallis in 1999; the heroic charge-down try of a retiring Brad Fittler in 2004; the individual brilliance of Andrew Johns in 2005 and the drought-breaking show-n-go try of Trent Hodkinson in 2014.
The rivalry between NSW and Queensland is now stronger than ever, with each match adding to a long and complex history.
Words: Simon Masterton
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