Former New South Wales prop Robbie Kearns credits the mateship involved on and off the field that came with playing his eight games of Origin for New South Wales. Credit: Daniel Berehulak Copyright: NRL Photos.
State of Origin means a lot of things to former Melbourne Storm, Western Reds and Cronulla Sharks prop Robbie Kearns.
While his Origin presence will forever be remembered for the Blues camp horse riding incident that saw the now Melbourne Storm ambassador break his collarbone, Kearns's actual time playing for New South Wales and Origin mean a whole lot more to him than that ill-fated bonding session.
For Kearns it was about sitting around the electric radiator as a kid in his family home in Engadine, eating popcorn with his family and enjoying the toughness of Noel Cleal and Les Davidson – his father making sure young Robbie understood the importance of Origin every step of the way.
By the time he made his debut, which would be followed by eight other outings in the sky blue jumper, Origin had become all about the mateship in the Origin cauldron.
"I look back now and some of the best mates I've ever had were from my representative games. I obviously played a lot of football with my teammates from either Cronulla or Perth or Melbourne or wherever it was, but then I would meet up with these guys [in Origin] and still to this day I'm great mates with them," Kearns tells NRL.com.
"The likes of the Newcastle boys like Matt Gidley, Danny Buderus and Joey Johns and the St George boys in Trent Barrett and Shaun Timmins. I could list 30 of them that I'm really good mates with."
Just as Queensland will look back on their eight-year winning streak with fond memories, so too does Kearns of his time when he was an influential member of the Blues' more dominant runs in Origin history through the late-'90s and early-2000s.
With the Blues clean-sweeping the series in 2000 and winning another in 2003, it coincided with the only two times Kearns managed to play the entire series though he shirks any suggestions that the victories came as a result of his presence.
"No way was that the case," Kearns laughs. "We were in an era where we had an outstanding football team. We had Johns, Brad Fittler, Buderus, Gidley and the list goes on with Glenn Lazarus, Ben Kennedy, Bryan Fletcher and Nathan Hindmarsh."
"It was an era where we got on like a house on fire and we really enjoyed each other's company with Tommy Raudonikis as our coach. Tommy was absolutely crazy and hilarious but he was very passionate about the New South Wales team and you could see it every time he spoke about the game or the opposition he wore his heart on his sleeve.
"Then Wayne Pearce came in and basically took over from Tommy and he was fantastic as well."
Kearns's most memorable moment in the Origin arena came with the record-breaking 56-16 drubbing of Queensland that closed out the 2000 series 3-0 in favour of the Blues.
In a game during which Ryan Girdler scored an unbelievable 32 points the Blues ended the year in absolute style and as Kearns put it "rubbed salt into the Maroons players' wounds".
"You look at the Queensland team at the time and I'm not too sure what happened but they just had an absolute terrible night that's never been repeated. I mean, they had Shane Webcke, Gorden Tallis, Darren Lockyer and Wendell Sailor and for those guys to be beaten by that much, you could tell that obviously something wasn't quite right," Kearns said.
"I doubt that record will ever be broken. That was the game that Bryan Fletcher also threw the hand grenade and unfortunately for New South Wales players beyond that I think Queensland got a lot of satisfaction out of that, a bit of incentive to never let it happen again and ever since really they have been on a roll."
While Kearns went on to play 20 Tests for Australia, an achievement he calls the "pinnacle of rugby league", State of Origin even to this day has a lasting effect on the tough-as-nails prop.
"There is no bigger or better game than Origin," Kearns said. "It is the toughest game and the fastest game you'll ever come across."