This article was first written and published for the Roar.
Can I make a confession?
I’ll be absolutely thrilled come Wednesday night at around 10.15pm when the siren will sound and State of Origin will be over for another year.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to love about State of Origin. It’s a time during the season when rugby league comes alive and seems to capture the entirety of New South Wales and Queensland.
On the field there’s a tremendous rivalry between both states and the quality of rugby league certainly goes up a notch.
In the 2019 series, I’ve enjoyed observing each coach and following the narrative leading into each game. There have been so many such narratives, whether it be about a supposed coach whisperer, too many changes to the squad by Brad Fittler, banning of the words ‘New South Wales’ and ‘Blues’ from camp and the injuries that each roster has had to manage (which apparently are still having an impact with whispers emerging about Matt Gillett’s fitness leading in to Game 3).
But, despite all the drawcards that State of a Origin brings, I’m tired of talking about it.
The reality is, people start talking about their supposed Origin line-ups two weeks into the season. Every player that plays well suddenly becomes an Origin ‘smokey’. Two weeks before the series opener, all the rugby league media seems to talk about is State of Origin and that lasts almost eight weeks until the end of the series.
Each rugby league season has a natural ebb and flow. There is the build up leading into the season, then the settling of the season as the premiership finds its natural rhythm. Then there is the build up to State of Origin and the disruption that that brings. Then Origin fatigue sets in, we come out of the Origin series and then finals are upon us.
I have very much reached Origin fatigue.
But the very good news is that once the series is decided on Wednesday night, we have a Premiership that is still very much anyone’s game (well almost anyone’s, you can certainly rule out the Gold Coast Titans and the Canterbury Bulldogs).
If you had asked experts leading into Round 8 of the collection who would win the Premiership, there were probably four answers – the Melbourne Storm, the Sydney Roosters, the South Sydney Rabbitohs or the Canberra Raiders.
At that stage of the season the Cronulla Sharks were a dark horse. With two million dollars worth of talent on the sidelines including Matt Moylan, Wade Graham, Shaun Johnson and Aaron Woods they were much an unknown quantity.
How much the competition has changed during the Origin period.
Now, rather than there being four in form teams, we have the most congested ladder I can remember in NRL history.
The one exception to that is the Melbourne Storm who have come out of the Origin period unscathed and now sit six points clear of their nearest rival on the ladder. Heading into this season, many predicted the Storm’s demise. But that demise has not come.
The Storm may not be the flashiest team in the competition, but they are the best full 80-minute team in the competition. They proved again on Thursday night that they can be trusted to grind out a win and did so against the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Then from second place all the way down to fourteenth place, only eight points separate the teams. The Wests Tigers sit on sixteenth points only outside the eight based on for and against. Despite their dismal starts to the season, teams like the Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers sit just one win out of the eight.
So that tells me that we’re in for a very exciting end to the season, with there now being far more than just four in form teams. It really is anyone’s game.
When State of Origin is over, the season will resume some normality and I have more questions than answers.
After four straight losses, is this the end of the Bunnies season or just a blip on the radar? Will they overcome the leadership loss of Greg Inglis and will Sam Burgess come back and finish the season injury and suspension free?
What about the Panthers? After five straight wins will this coming weekend be when they finally push into the top eight? And what does success look like for them this year? Is simply making the top eight enough to justify the coaching change from Anthony Griffen to Ivan Cleary?
And then there’s the Parramatta Eels; the only team who have been in the top eight every round this season? Can they gain some momentum and finish the season in the top eight?
Bring on the end to what’s been a very exciting State of Origin period, because these are the questions I want to find out the answer to.