The year is 1980. Tries are worth three points, the
occasional punch to the head, although not encouraged, is part of the fabric of
the game, and full-strength beer is available to every punter in attendance. The
year also heralds the inaugural State of Origin game.
If you were born before 1970, chances are you'll remember the
iconic moment when Queensland and rugby league Immortal Arthur Beetson trotted
out onto Lang Park for the first ever game of State of Origin.
So important was this moment for the longevity of the State
of Origin concept that even former Queensland centre Chris 'Choppy' Close looks
past any individual milestones he accumulated (including the first two Origin
man of the match awards) and credits the time he walked out behind Beetson in this
important fixture as his ultimate Origin highlight.
"In my eyes way back then, Arthur laid the platform for
what Origin has become," Close tells NRL.com.
"When we were running out and getting cheered out of
the tunnel Arthur had Vaseline smeared across his face and the black eye
make-up and snot flying out of his nose. I looked into his eyes and it was just
sheer focus and when the crowd erupted from when he appeared [out of the
tunnel] – it will stay with me forever."
Growing up as a kid, long before the Origin concept was even
thought of, Close's childhood was filled with memories of a Queensland side
constantly subjected to flogging after flogging. Cheekily, Close compares it to
the NSW side of today, or as he puts it "the butt of all jokes".
So when he was afforded the opportunity to play in the first
Origin match with the likes of Beetson, Wally Lewis and Rod Reddy as a
strapping 21-year-old, and later managing the side for 12 years after hanging
up his boots, it's understandable Origin ended up meaning a whole lot more to
him than a game of footy.
"It was a sense of empowerment to probably play that
game in 1980 and actually beat what was considered to be the best team in the
world at the time, and I don't think it was just a feeling that I had
alone," Close says.
"It was such a great thing for me. I was only young and
it certainly meant a lot to me, particularly playing in what really was a team
of superstars and I think the state of Queensland felt it as well and I just
know that it was a real coming of age for Queensland around that time."
"It was the birth of a new era, from staying in
suburban hotels - and I mean pubs - into first class accommodation. Although be
it back then at that level it was certainly not like it is now. The scrutiny
wasn't there and obviously times were different and you could go out and have a
few drinks without getting in any trouble."
When the second edition of Origin rolled around in 1981,
Close could sense the arrogance in the air, adamant that New South Wales
thought Queensland's win the year prior as merely a fluke.
"We were pretty pumped from the year before and there
was a lot of expectation... so there was a lot of speculation from the New
South Wales players that it wasn't going to be fair dinkum," Close says.
"The build-up to that game was huge and particularly
for us we had something to prove."
Queensland brought it - and then some - to win the game
22-15. Close would even bring a backhander to the fray, or better yet, to the
face of Eric Grothe for good measure after the NSW winger made a magnificent
tackle on runaway Queensland fullback Colin Scott mere inches away from the
"The opportunity for us to score was going to be
extinguished fairly quickly if someone didn't act because Eric just locked onto
[Scott] and quite obviously wasn't going to let him up quickly," Close
"So in an effort to get that process moving I grabbed
Eric's head by the hair and pulled him back and... the second time I grabbed his
head I pulled it back and I smacked him with a backhander... and he just went
limp. So Scotty stood up and played the ball and there was nobody there and I
saw the line."
The rest, as they say, is history.