The NRL needs an All Star Weekend
State of Origin used to be a spectacle of the game. After 1980 when it went to 3 game format. It was played over 6 weeks and was primarily used to select the test team. The two Origin sides were selected about a week before the game. Teams went into camp and that was all that was talked about.
Because State of Origin has become such a commercially viable product, the NRL has done multiple things over the past few years that are deteriorating the product and cannibalising the NRL itself.
Problem 1: The length of the State of Origin period
It’s too long. Teams go into camp nearly two weeks before game 1. Games are three weeks apart and by the time we wrap game three almost 12 weeks have passed.
That’s nearly half of the regular NRL season. While State of Origin is going on, people forget we have a domestic competition.
Problem 2: The impact to NRL teams
Players go back to their teams in between matches, often having to rest through exhaustion or injury sustained in the State of Origin match. It degrades the game because teams can not field their best squad.
Imagine you pay your hard earned cash to see Aaron Woods play for your beloved Tigers and it’s the only game you are going to get to all year… And he is rested because of Origin? Not that players don’t injure themselves in the regular season, however State of Origin is a brutal affair and the chances of injury and fatigue are increased.
Problem 3: Game scheduling
It used to be you’d go to school or work and talk about State of Origin all day. Get home have a couple of hours rest. The game would come on at 7.30pm.
When the product grew we went to 7.30pm pre-game and kick off at 8pm. The pre-game ran a little longer and kick-off got pushed a little. And pushed a little and pushed a little further. Last year by the time players got on the field, the anthem was sung and the fireworks cleared, it was nearly 8.30pm.
Not only does this make it harder for younger fans to watch the whole thing, it also affects the quality of the game. The later in the evening the game, the more dew builds up on the field. The ball and track get greasy and the football suffers.
Problem 4: It rarely tests players anymore
Because State of Origin dominance got so important, we now have player pathways, 18th and 19th men, origin development camps and emerging Origin squads. By the time a player makes their Origin debut, they are so professionally polished and ready for the game that they rarely make mistakes.
One of the greatest things about State of Origin in the late 80’s early 90’s was that you threw together a bunch of players that didn’t play week in week out. They were elevated into an elite match where they were tested against the best in the world. Part of what made the Origin product so good was that you either sank or swim.
It was the ultimate fight or flight test for players. Often it was those uncharacteristic mistakes that made the best Origin memories. Justin Hodges debut. Martin Bella playing the ball backwards. And who can forget Crusher Cleal taking an air swing at a drop out in the pouring rain.
All remnants of players having brain fades or letting the conditions and the occasion get the better of them. And then when a player stood up and did something remarkable, it was just that, remarkable. Now we expect the remarkable.
Problem 5: It’s everywhere all the time
It now commences at the beginning of the year with a State of Origin launch. Then they go away on emerging camps and then they do tours.
The worst part is that now every single time someone does something remarkable, the first question is “reckon he’ll play Origin?”
The point of the NRL is to play with your club side, week in week out for 26 weeks. Toil together, struggle together and bleed together. The ultimate prize should be a premiership, not a state jersey 8 weeks into the comp.
You know the saying “a week is a long time in Rugby League.” That proved true in the last two weeks of the comp. Inglis out for the season after game 1. Matt Scott out for the season in game 2. These are two automatic selections for QLD every year that won’t be available this time. So what’s the point of talking about anyone’s eligibility so far out from the actual game.
What’s the solution then? I hear you ask
Ben Ikin floated this concept a long while back and it was met with some disgust. However I mirror his sentiment. Make State of Origin a one off and make it part of an NRL All Star Weekend. The NRL needs to take a leaf out of the book of the USA and have an MLB or NBA style All Start weekend.
Four days of rep games in celebration of the NRL. They run all the rep games from the representative calendar. City v Country, Samoa v Tonga, Fiji v Papua New Guinea. Play a female test Australia v New Zealand. And also play the Indigenous All Stars v World All Stars match.
In between games you run a cut down version of the 9’s. A mixed 9’s; 5 men and 4 women on the field at any one time in a round robin lose and your out competition. You can also have sprint comps, passing and kicking comps to test the skills of the best players in the game. Similar formula to the slam dunk contest of the NBA or the home run derby of the MLB. And while we’re at it, why not throw a legends match in there for good measure.
Then all of this culminates in a one off winner take all State of Origin match on the Sunday night.
You rotate it each year so that one year QLD gets the all star weekend, the next NSW. An All Star weekend would take the 12 week strain off the regular competition and it would be a true carnival celebration of the NRL.
This may never happen. Mainly because the State of Origin product is the highest revenue generator of any NRL program. But if we continue at this rate, the NRL will become a second tier competition to a 52 week, 3 game per year all-consuming product.
by Darrin Seath – contributor