Origin takes a toll on clubs
“I saw this plastic surgeon this morning; she said I could have a droopy eye. Mal said to wait until I’ve finished playing and retired before getting a whole face lift.”
Those were the morning-after words from the man they call ‘Captain Marvel’, Cameron Smith. It’d only been 10 hours since the fulltime siren at Suncorp Stadium, Queensland salvaging the State of Origin Series with a 20-point victory.
The Maroons skipper produced one of his best games of the season; he was devastating from dummy-half, rampant in defence, clinical in orchestrating the seven-time champions’ rescue mission.
It’s been a big week for Smith: he celebrated his 30th birthday with best mate Billy Slater; he spent days building belief in Camp Maroon; watched good mate Johnathan Thurston rushed to hospital with chronic stomach pains less than 24 hours before kick-off; led Queensland to victory at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium; and picked up the Australian selectors’ man of the match award for his efforts.
Oh, and he also went to the plastic surgeon to knit together four gashes underneath his right eye. But that doesn’t bother this Logan-born leader, even if he is the face of the Queensland and Melbourne campaign. Smith just wants to be right to play before his next kick-off deadline. The Storm travel to Leichhardt Oval to play Wests Tigers on Saturday; sadly though it’s unlikely Smith will be able to play.
Across town, the Blues skipper limped out of the team hotel on crutches. Paul Gallen did not resemble the defiant, ferocious forward, who beats his chest, proud to be public enemy number one north of the border. The New South Wales captain looked beaten. He’s off to have scans to see if he’ll make the Sharks’ trip to Townsville. I have to admit, it would be a superman healing effort for Gallen to get on a plane to North Queensland for Sunday’s match.
The aftermath of Origin can be more brutal that the bone-jarring hits and all-in brawls. The state-against-state battle is felt hardest at club level. It’s nothing new for representative-rich clubs like the Broncos, who would traditionally trot out a second-string side through Origin.
But it is also becoming a harsh reality for the battlers, ie Parramatta whose star player Jarryd Hayne failed to back up after the Origin opener. Last year Ricky Stuart was frantically trying to solve the Queensland conundrum of seven straight series victories; this year Ricky is flat-out trying to get the Eels out of the NRL cellar. One thing he does need is his star player.
Is it time to re-open the old argument of having State of Origin as a stand-alone fixture? Does the greatest contest of our game deserve its own weekend?
State of Origin shouldn’t succeed on bleeding the regular rounds dry of talent. It’s better than that. The foundations of Origin tap into the tribalism and pride in your homeland. It shouldn’t have to compete with the difficult business of winning the Telstra Premiership – which let’s be honest is the whole aim of this game. It is easy to forget in June, that there is a greater picture in place. Premierships are what make the rugby league world revolve.
So when you see the Storm struggling without their ‘spine’, or Cronulla playing a month of football without their captain, it’s a niggling reminder that State of Origin does come at a cost. Clubs pay a high price to loan their premiership winners out to the Blues and Maroons franchises. I love Origin... I love its theatre... and I love that dangerously addictive rivalry that not even Grand Final football can re-create. But does State of Origin belong in a mid-week, mid-season calendar?
While ‘Captain Marvel’ Cameron Smith is the poster boy for Melbourne, Queensland and Australia, the captain is only human and can only heal as you or I would. The Storm fans will still celebrate if he has a droopy eye or not.
But I hope for their sake they still have something to cheer for in October.