I wouldn’t call myself a big league fan. I don’t usually watch fixtures on telly, let alone go to the games. Two years ago, I hopped to ANZ stadium to witness State of Origin in person. The rugby league all star ‘game’ is actually a best of three affair pitting the NSW Blues and the Queensland Maroons. True to its name, each side feature players representing their respective states. Origin starts in early June and this year, finished on July. The participants battle it out in the winter night. It was a very underwhelming experience with each side scoring only one try. I remember getting home past midnight, with people packed like sardines on the train home.
National Rugby League (NRL) & NBA
In Australia, rugby league is to Sydney as Aussie rules is to Melbourne. There is only one NRL team in Victoria, while only two Sydney organisations compete in the AFL. Someone mentioned that league is popular here because ‘It’s faster; basketball is too slow.’ At most, each side could be tackled 6 times from their opponents’ end, although either outfit could gain valuable metres thru a penalty, scrum, or twenty metre restart. There could be more tactics, such as dummy halves and offloading, but I don’t watch that much. In pro basketball, you have 24 seconds to shoot; this is misleading though as there’s no limit to how many times you could grab an offensive board, gaining multiple possessions in the process. While a hoops game is usually about two hours, a league game often doesn’t go over 90 minutes, and has mostly a running clock. There are no timeouts, with a maximum of three interchanges. A typical NBA joust could have a dozen timeouts and even more substitutions. Constant fouling also stops the clock.
Venerable Ray Warren is the voice of rugby league and can be heard regularly on Nine broadcasts. In this edition, the final clash last Wednesday, one thing struck me as curious. On two occasions in this match, a player from each side made an intercept and jogged full court to score a try. This happened first with the Maroon’s Valentine Holmes, and then again with the Blues’ Tom Trbojevic. The Queenslanders were ahead for most of the opening half before two quick tries by the Blues quieted the partisan SunCorp Stadium crowd. Blues’ leader Jim Maloney also got banished to the sin bin after a dangerous shove on Billy Slater. After trailing 8-12 at the whistle, Queensland recovered to bagel NSW, ten-zip after halftime. Even in a losing effort, the play of Tom Trbojevic and Nathan Cleary were admirable. Cleary was a picture of calm as he kicked two goals while Maloney was out.
Though NSW lost the match, they still won the series, 2 games to 1. While the loss at Brisbane was disappointing, the Blues are still bringing home the coveted Shield. Long suffering Blues fans have grown tired of Thurston and Smith hoisting that every single year. They haven’t won in Queensland for ages, but the good news is, they’re getting close. They’ve proven that they can beat the Maroons on the road, including at Melbourne. Just forget about Suncorp Stadium though. In one of the other matches, the referees awarded Blues captain Boyd Cordner with a rare penalty try after being hacked near the goal line. Apparently, this was only the second such instance in Origin history, and the first in almost thirty years. Wow! Here I thought four point plays on the hardwood were anomalous.
Blues coach Brad Fittler’s decision for young blood to take over his lineup was a stroke of genius. As the announcers noted, there were 11 Blues players who haven’t contested State of Origin in Queensland. It was newcomers galore from top to bottom, the most debutants ever in NSW history. Many so-called experts questioned Fittler’s move, but he had the last laugh. There were many heroes for Coach Brad, but James Maloney and Nathan Cleary’s contributions were immense. Cordner’s leadership was also series-altering. Some pundits have argued that Game 3 was pointless as the series was already decided after two contests. Yet had you missed the last one, you would have overlooked the drama from the best tilt in this year’s Origin.