New South Wales... you complete me! I watched the Blues triumph over Queensland 12 - 8 with a bunch of hardened journalists. Men and women who have been hinting in recent times, and indeed claiming prior to kick-off, that they had lost the passion for rugby league after covering it for so many years.
By half-time however the screaming, cheering and abuse from our "disenchanted" group had resulted in two neighbours pleading for silence, and my hearing – often subject to the roars and hysteria of live games of footy in stupendous stadiums – was verging on deafness.
There's just something about State of Origin that can unleash the most fervent diehard fan from within. This year's opening clash, the 100th, was one of the most memorable games I've watched – and not just because New South Wales won... well maybe that helps a bit. We all love our teams and the highs and lows of our regular premiership comp, but there's an extra special dimension to State of Origin – that's widely acknowledged.
On Wednesday night however, the consensus was that even that "intangible something" seemed to have assumed monumental proportions. Observing my companions watching Nine's superb telecast, I felt we were all more than viewers – the nature of the contest, the degree of the intensity and the raw ferocity of the players' emotions actually captivated and engaged us, and we seemed to become participants rather than privileged spectators. Many of us, Blues and Maroons fans alike, were almost as physically exhausted at the end of what could arguably be the most magnificent final 30 minutes of any sporting contest as the players themselves!
In recent times, despite the one-way results, the Blues have always tried hard, they've always trained hard, and they've always given it their best. But 'heart' is something you can't just turn on, or call upon for 80 minutes – it's either there or it's not – and last night it was there, in volumes you can't quantify, in every single Blues jersey. We saw it graphically, dramatically and oh so transparently in every grimace, in every step taken, in every glance that was cast, and in every word that was uttered on the field. As the sporting pundits are want to say: it was palpable.
Brett Morris dislocating his shoulder and returning to the field; Paul Gallen inspiring with every run and tackle; and Jarryd Hayne... where do you start? He was just brilliant, in every way, and on every level – a magnificent and unanimous choice as Man of the Match. Every single Blues fan watching was riding the same rollercoaster as Laurie Daley in the box... we endured those last 20 minutes with him, and shared his nerves, his fear, his hope, his sheer terror that Queensland might do what we all know they're capable of doing – and what they've done so brilliantly countless times before. Like his consummately professional and accomplished counterpart, Mal Meninga, Laurie withstood the storm, the predictable last-ditch onslaught of his awesome and legendary opponents, and emerged full of praise for the efforts of his charges.
So what was the key to the performance? Was it the north-coast camp, the new halves combination, Gallen's pre-match verbal antics, or perhaps the maturing of the Blues' leadership group? Or the culmination of eight years' desperation, or a magical statistical convergence of 17 players taking their hearts and bodies to previously untold places to produce 80 simply sensational minutes of footy?
We shall probably all have different answers to that question, but whatever it was, it produced a game that has been universally acclaimed. And one thing is certain – NSW weren't the only winners last night. Our mighty game, and we, the fanatical and adoring fans, were big winners as well. We thank both camps for the spectacle, for the skill and for the entertainment, but more than that, we have to thank all the fans for their passion.