BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Long before Arthur Beetson smashed his fist into good mate Mick Cronin’s head, before ‘Cattledog’, ‘Queenslander’, Michael Cronin’s sideline conversion or Gorden Tallis throwing Brett Hodgson into the 42nd row of ANZ Stadium – there was interstate rugby league.
The mere mention of the words ‘interstate footy’ still sends chills down old Queenslander’s spines and turns others in their graves.
From the very first year of rugby league being played in Australia, New South Wales has clashed with Queensland. In other words, since 1908 until 1979, the Blues dominated their northern enemies.
Through clinched teeth, QLD officials kept putting sides together.
The longstanding pain for Queenslanders was the fact that their best players were playing these matches in a NSW jersey – not for QLD. That was because most of QLD’s gun players were playing in the Sydney competition and not in Brisbane.
Apart from the 1920’s, where QLD actually held a record of 10-1, due to being able to retain their best players like Tom Gorman, Edwin Brown, Norm Potter, Cyril Aynsley, Cec Broadfoot and Eric Fraunfelder – most of Australian rugby league history is a landslide to NSW.
In 219 games, NSW won 160 of 219 games.
QLD could only watch as rich Sydney clubs took their best players. Those players would then meet them mid-season and beat them up.
President of the QRL and former Senator Ron McAuliffe acknowledged the state’s fury and did something about it. With the help of local Brisbane firms, the QRL made an attack on the NSWRL premiership.
They took an open cheque book to Sydney wanting to bring the game’s best players to the Brisbane premiership, and in turn, put them in maroon jumpers.
Immortals Graeme Langlands and Ron Coote were close to signing.
Instead, they’d return in 1973 with Souths icon John Sattler and St George halfback Ross Strudwick.
NSW won the ’73 series by three matches to nil with QLD unable to score a single point.
The fire grew.
Outspoken former Australian half Barry Muir – who played 25 games for his country, never played in Sydney and struggled to get on with his NSW counterparts on Kangaroo Tours – labelled Queenslanders playing against their own state as “traitors”. It would also be Muir that first sprung New South Welshmen with the term ‘Cockroaches’.
Now funnily enough, it was a VFL (AFL) president who feathered the idea of “State of Origin” into the ear of a fed up McAuliffe at a meeting in 1979.
Aussie Rules boss Allen Aylett told McAuliffe that because of the influx of Western Australian talent into his competition, he was organising a match between Victorian-born players against players born in WA.
You can almost see McAuliffe listening intently, twirling the straw in his drink, a thousand phone calls to make.
McAuliffe went to NSWRL chair Kevin Humphreys.
Humphreys went to his clubs in Sydney. Three fought it (Dragons, Rabbitohs and Roosters), but NSWRL had enough votes.
The 1980 three-match series would go ahead.
But Origin would only be, if NSW won the first two matches handsomely.
Imagine if QLD caused an upset in one of those two games?
In game one of the ’80 interstate series, Rockhampton’s Rod Reddy scored a try in NSW’s 35-3 win. The Blues would win the second match 17-7 in front of less than 2000 people on a Tuesday night at Leichhardt Oval.
Sydney clubs hesitantly gave QLD their boys back for the first ‘State of Origin’ on the 8th of July. The Maroons, with Kerry Boustead, John Lang, Reddy and Beetson in the team for the first time beat NSW 20-10.
Both sides of the border agreed to repeat the formula in 1981.
In the first game of ’81, QLD’s own John Ribot scored two tries for NSW as the Blues ran out 10-2 winners. Two weeks later, Greg Dowling (from Cairns) and Paul McCabe (from Toowoomba) scored two tries each as the team in blue beat QLD 22-9.
Time for ‘Origin’ again which the Maroons won 22-15 in front of 30,000 rabid Queenslanders. The half-time score was 15-5 to NSW.
Imagine the NSWRL officials at Lang Park that night as the players trotted off for the break?
Was it already all over?
The power restored to NSWRL?
Have another chardy, fellas, job done.
This was the original comeback that would become folklore.
Part of Maroons DNA.
QLD stormed back and won the game.
“Interstate” rugby league was dead.
Origin was born and it will never die.
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