1980-1984: Origin Takes Off

Macauliffe suggested that the third game of the 1980 series would be contested on a state-of-origin basis, with the match to act as a Test selection trial for the following year. While Humphries was reluctant for the NSWRFL to support Reardon and Macauliffe's idea, he and most NSW clubs accepted the idea on two major conditions:

  • If the third game was to decide the series, it was not to act as a selection trial
  • The expatriate Queenslanders would be under the supervision of a representative of the NSWRFL, whose duty it would be to protect the interests of both the NSWRFL and the clubs to which they were contracted.
The NSW team named for the first State of Origin game in 1980, captained by Tom Raudonikis.
The NSW team named for the first State of Origin game in 1980, captained by Tom Raudonikis.

With Queensland losing the opening two matches of the interstate series – the second in front of a Sydney crowd of just 1,638 – the State of Origin concept was to proceed at Brisbane's Lang Park (now Suncorp Stadium) on 8 May, 1980. In the lead-up to the match, much of the media were sceptical about its credibility, with 1978 Kangaroos Captain Bob Fulton famously describing it as "the non-event of the century."

It is generally accepted that the concept's success was dependant on Queensland winning the inaugural game – and, in a significant upset, they did so convincingly as captain Arthur Beetson led the Maroons to a 20-10 victory. Importantly, the match also sparked the "state against state, mate against mate" mentality, when the Queensland skipper made heavy contact with Blues centre and Parramatta Eels teammate Mick Cronin – a moment which has typified State of Origin ever since.

A fight breaks out in the first State of Origin match played in 1980 - which Queensland won 20-10.
A fight breaks out in the first State of Origin match played in 1980 - which Queensland won 20-10. ©NRL Photos

The following year saw the game revert to residency-based eligibility criteria, with NSW once again winning the opening two games of the series. The series win to the Blues ensured State of Origin was again implemented for the final match, some six weeks after Game Two at Leichhardt Oval.

Once again, the game was filled with controversy as Queensland came away with another victory. With NSW leading in the final quarter of play, a questionable try awarded to Queenslander Chris Close levelled scores before the Maroons went on to win 22-15, keeping the state competitive and fuelling the rivalry further.

The State of Origin format is the only possible way to allow the interstate series to survive.

Frank HydeSydney Morning Herald, 2 June 1982

It was then clear that the State of Origin format was here to stay, with increased public interest resulting in greater financial incentives for the governing bodies. A three-game State of Origin series ensued in 1982 and, having drawn impressive crowds, has continued every year since.

Assisted by a continued home-ground advantage – every series between 1982 and 1987 included two games at Lang Park – the Maroons won the 1982, 1983 and 1984 series 2-1 under captain Wally Lewis.

Queensland's dominance could only last so long, however, with NSW desperate to break the drought.

Ray Price, Wally Lewis and Arthur Beetson leave the field after the first State of Origin match in 1980.
Ray Price, Wally Lewis and Arthur Beetson leave the field after the first State of Origin match in 1980.