I just happen to be 17,000km away in St Helens, England, preparing for the Exiles v England International Origin fixture but all players asked if we could postpone training to watch State of Origin II played at ANZ Stadium, Sydney.
As a parochial and some would say long suffering Blues fan, I was hoping that the good football played in Melbourne in Game One would continue in front of a home crowd.
It was a pleasure to see 83,000 fans turn up to watch a tremendous game with NSW playing a physically brutal style that few fans would have witnessed before. Suffice to say that NSW winning only 16-12 after Queensland had suffered injury after injury speaks volumes for the Maroons, but the difference was NSW weren’t to be denied like so many times before.
Even being so far away could not stop the excitement in a team camp on the other side of the world for those following the Blues (and there were not many).
It seems nowadays that Kiwis, Tongans and Samoans all follow Queensland and it is just the born and bred who are Blue. Greg Bird, Luke Lewis, Robbie Farah and Josh Morris were incredible in a brilliant, committed team performance.
Back to the Exiles v England. This concept is in its second year and the RFL are hoping that it will take off and resemble something like State of Origin. They are not naïve in suggesting it will rise to the heights of Origin but any representative fixture that has the best available players played in a committed and enthusiastic environment will produce a quality product.
England is using it to develop their players for the 2013 World Cup and future international series. This is a no brainer but most people question why this game would be important to the Exiles.
Being in camp with the players has provided some answers. Thomas Leuluai, who will return to the NRL in 2013 with the Warriors after six years in the Super League enjoys the company and contribution of quality players in a representative environment. He describes it as a refreshing way of improving your game in the middle of a tough season in preparation for the big end of season games.
It is also an opportunity for debutants to experience a representative team. All representative players will declare that their game has improved being in an environment full of high achievers. Discard at your peril the competitive juices of a professional rugby league player who is looking for redemption after leaving the NRL. Corey Parker spoke about the bond or ‘family’ when selected in the Queensland team. Don’t underestimate the bond that a group of players representing the Southern Hemisphere 17,000km away from family and friends can form especially when playing one of the Kangaroos and Kiwis main competitors.
We know that after 32 years of State of Origin games that a dead rubber match doesn’t have the same atmosphere. Game Three on July 4 will be another ferocious battle to decide the series victor.
We’re not sure how the Exiles v England will stand the test of time but I am confident that the Exiles will take note of the passion and commitment displayed last Wednesday and do justice to their representative jersey.