This article was first written for and published for NRL.com.
I’m writing this column with my NSW Blues scarf wrapped around my neck. As a Blues fan, wearing my scarf with pride is not something I have had the opportunity to do much of over the last decade.
So after the Blues’ 22-12 win over the Queensland Maroons on Wednesday night, I’m taking my opportunity with both hands.
There were plenty of highlight moments from game one including watching James Tedesco having some role in each of the four tries the Blues scored; putting my head in my hands as Valentine Holmes intercepted a James Maloney pass to run 90 metres reducing the margin to just two points; and the incredible pre-game show featuring plenty of fireworks, LED lasers and Peking Duk.
Late in the second half, when I almost felt confident enough to say that the Blues had done enough to guarantee themselves the win, a booming voice came through the loudspeakers at the MCG announcing the crowd – a whopping 87,122 and the fourth highest State of Origin attendance in history.
I don’t know about you, but that really filled me with pride.
In the lead-up to the game there had been plenty of scuttlebutt in the media claiming the NRL was having immense problems selling tickets to the game.
Actions speak louder than words and footy fans spoke with their bottoms on seats on Wednesday night.
State of Origin is such a spectacular advertisement for our game and it was a thrill to share the evening with so many fans of our game… even if plenty of them were dressed in Maroon.
The walk to the MCG
There were plenty of storylines heading into game one, but one of my favourites was the commentary around Brad Fittler and his fresh approach for the team.
“Freddy” is a fascinating man – a llama farmer, one of the best footy players I have ever had the opportunity to watch, and a man who meditates. I know plenty of people think of him as a bit of a space cadet, but I can confidently say that I have met fewer people in the game who are kinder, more knowledgeable, and more passionate about it and its success.
Freddy and his men in blue had nothing to hide and Blues fans came along with them for the ride.
My favourite part of the lead-up though was seeing the Blues walk to the MCG last night, casually dressed in black, flanked by their fans.
Let’s see if they are brave enough to do the same in Origin III, down Caxton Street.
There were plenty of names being thrown around for man of the match honours. James Tedesco made 226 metres, had 17 tackle breaks, two line breaks, a try assist and a try. Boyd Cordner led from the front with 21 runs for 156 metres and 31 tackles. Damien Cook rose to the occasion as well with 91 metres, a line break assist and 55 tackles with just one miss.
These players were exceptional but it brought me just as much pride to see James Roberts out there on Wednesday night making his Origin debut. Just a few months earlier, he may not have believed it was possible.
Earlier this week, Michael Chammas wrote an exceptional piece on Roberts for NRL.com – a man who has faced his fair share of personal demons throughout his career.
We cannot escape the reality of our game. For some of the men playing our game, without footy they might be unemployed. They might be engaged in illegal activities. Some of them would be dead.
We should be proud that our game is one that changes lives and remember the tremendous capacity it has to give men the opportunity to better themselves.
As fans, when we judge our players we so often forget that they are human too and that many of them are confronting their own personal demons.
Roberts’ story is a reminder that our players are human and that footy gives them the opportunity to be the best versions of themselves they can be.
I never had any doubt that Greg Inglis would rise to the occasion marking his first game as Maroons captain, but I certainly did not expect a performance quite like what GI gave us all on Wednesday night.
One word. Inspirational.
When he smashed Tom Trbojevic midway through the second half, he rallied his troops. At this point in the game the Blues were up 8-0. Players ran in from across the park for some push and shove and Queensland lifted. In fact, in the next set, the Maroons scored through the Valentine Holmes intercept.
But ‘Tommy Turbo’ was not the only player GI lined up on Wednesday night. He also tackled James Roberts, Nathan Cleary and Josh-Addo Carr with ferocity. Every time he did, his side lifted in intensity to meet him.
There’s been plenty of celebration by Blues fans, but I do not think this was a dominant win. There were a couple of calls that really could have changed the momentum of this game and GI led his team admirably.
I expect the Maroons to make a couple of changes leading into Origin II in Sydney, where it really is “game on”.
The best moment of all…
Was of course when that final siren went signifying the end of 80 minutes. The Maroons looked defeated. The Blues fans started chanting “New South Wales! New South Wales!” at the top of their lungs and the celebrations began.
NSW might be up 1-0 in the series, but I have learnt it is a foolish person that writes off the Maroons – particularly with players like Billy Slater and Kalyn Ponga waiting in the wings for their opportunity.
For NSW fans, enjoy this victory. We are just 80 minutes away from our first State of Origin series win since 2014.