In Touch: Open Origin to a Benji-led Pacific team
Some choices are mutually exclusive - you either like Violet Crumbles or Crunchies, Speedos or boardies, and yes, union or league. But it doesn’t mean you can’t change as you get older and wiser.
I made my choice on August 3, 2002. Having grown up in New Zealand, I was a loyal All Blacks fan, but 15 years of supporting the Maroons after moving to Queensland gave me one foot in the NRL camp. So when I started dating a mad Rooster and he rather romantically asked me to see the Chooks play the Sharks on the night of the Bledisloe Test, (to which I had been invited; geez, I must have really liked him) I was ready to do a Dally Messenger and controversially switch codes.
For me, there are two major differences in the administration of union and league. Rugby league is more willing to embrace change; once we dropped line-outs, two players, and most of the scrums, nothing was particularly sacred as long as it improved the game. This year alone saw nine key rule changes.
Secondly, league is pretty much all about the club games, while union’s schedule revolves around representative footy. Sure we love the odd Test, and Origin football is a season highlight, but nothing beats the grand final. Most of what’s written about rep games concerns the threat of long-term injury to players, and how the demands of rep football will affect subsequent club games.
This week has seen much debate about the future, and possible expansion, of representative rugby league. On the weekend Philip Ronald Gould, the crazy genius of our sport, (I can’t decide if he’s the Jabba or the Yoda of the code’s internecine quarrels) posed a series of questions including:
"How many levels of representative football should we have? Should we have three-match Test series against Great Britain and New Zealand on a regular basis? Should State of Origin be expanded to a best-of-five series? Should Origin be expanded to include a new Polynesian-based team?"
What do you think? As much as I would have liked last week’s Test against New Zealand to be just the first of three matches, I’m not interested enough to be willing to sacrifice 17 players from the Telstra Premiership. Yes, even though the Roosters are in the dubiously fortunate position of having no players selected!
But when it comes to Origin I’m willing to make radical changes. I love it the way it is, state against state, mate against mate, but rugby league has shown it can embrace change and make it work.
After all, it wasn’t until 1980 that players began taking to the field for their home state. As a concept it was resisted by the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Dragons, and Bob Fulton reportedly called the first match "the non-event of the century".
How wrong could they be! So, why not go for it and try including a new team? I would love to see Benji Marshall lead a contingent of Kiwis, Samoans, Fijians, Papua New Guineans, and Tongans into Origin battle.
It would open up Origin and its unmatched intensity to a long list of exceptional players who are not currently eligible. Why shouldn't Benji, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Issac Luke, Fuifui Moimoi and many other young greats have their day?
Origin is already popular across the Tasman and the region, and giving them their own team would reward and encourage fans and potential players. It would be a marketing coup, and would make a mockery of the AFL's more modest expansion plans - Eddie and friends, you just try and get the Gold Coast. Meanwhile, we'll take the South Pacific.
Blues fans should get behind it, if only to enlist help in breaking the Maroons' stranglehold on the trophy. And Maroons fans are looking for a challenge, one they may find in a Pacific team.
Purists will resist, but remember purists made rugby union what it is today, and innovators created rugby league, the greatest game of all.