It’s the perennial cycle of the rugby league season; no sooner have we heard the last of the Last Post than the monolith that is State Of Origin comes into view.
As certain as the gusts of wind that pick up chill in Moore Park this time of year and the dead leaves on the dirty ground, the next nine weeks of club football will be played under the imposing shadow of the interstate series. The best indication that we will all be talking about Origin was the declaration from Wests Tigers and Australia coach Tim Sheens after his side’s 31-30 success against Parramatta yesterday that he would not talk about it.
Sheens had been attacked by his former Canberra protégé, Ricky Stuart, in the Sunday Telegraph that morning for having the temerity to push his captain’s Origin selection claims.
Soon, all our other soap operas – from Chris Sandow to Willie Mason to suspended player agents – will be completely eclipsed as Origin rules the days of our lives. The successful coaches are already preparing for it.
When asked if his team, which has won six in a row for the first time since 2002, deserved to be ranked alongside Melbourne and Brisbane, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said: “I don’t think so. We’re doing a real good job at the moment. The testing time is ahead when blokes like Paul Gallen and Todd Carney are in Origin.”
‘Gal’ and Carney had just led the Sharks to a 44-22 win over the Raiders at Canberra Stadium. Cronulla are likely to have fewer players involved in Origin than the Storm or Broncos, meaning when the series is over, they may be ranked better than just ‘alongside’ the interstate powerhouses.
In fact, if an Origin handicap was applied to the current competition table, adding or subtracting points according to the anticipated toll of the series, the standings may look significantly different. Newcastle and the Warriors, just outside the eight, stand to benefit from less involvement – although the Sharks are easily the best placed under this system.
Knowing Origin is around the corner, Broncos coach Anthony Griffin would not even discuss the contention by former skipper Darren Lockyer, made on TV during Friday’s 26-6 win over Gold Coast on Friday, that Brisbane could win the comp this season as part of a “two or three year window”.
“I don’t know … I’m not looking at it from a broader term,” said Griffin. “It’s Friday night, round nine or whatever it is, I’m glad we’ve had a win.” It was only round eight, but Griffin was entitled to wish it was round 18 – which is when his players will be fully back in his own hands.
For sides with heavy interstate series commitments, good form leading into the series is just about essential – which is probably why North Queensland’s 20-16 defeat to South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night after trailing 20-0 hurt the Cowboys so much.
“We played terrible in the first half,” fullback Matt Bowen told NRL.com. “You can’t turn up any week thinking it’s an easy game.
“We’ve showed we can play good footy this year. (Souths) made us look second rate.
“Origin’s a fair way away. I just want to concentrate on playing good footy for the Cowboys. If the rep scene comes, it comes. If it doesn’t; no skin-off my nose.”
Here’s an exercise for you: take a screen capture of the competition table on this website. Then, on July 10, open up the same page and make a comparison.
If, at some stage between now and then, you find yourself shaking your head and asking no-one in particular: “What would we do without Origin?”, direct your query instead to one of the coaches listed above.
They’ll give you a list.