What Origin means to Jason Hetherington
The streak may be over and the series gone, but that didn't stop former Maroons hooker Jason Hetherington from taking a treasured item from his past into camp for Game Three that will hopefully inspire the future generation of Queensland representatives.
It's now more than 30 years old and stopped fitting not long after he wore it in 1981 but it was the advent of State of Origin that truly gave Hetherington's under-12s Queensland jersey the meaning that would last throughout his entire career.
"I'm very proud of it – it's not real big. I can still remember the joy I got when I was picked," says Hetherington, who remains heavily involved with the Maroons as one of their trainers and is coach of the Central Queensland Capras in the Intrust Super Cup.
"Every region was on Lang Park and we were all in our rows and they called out the 17 that were picked for Queensland and I can still remember the joy that I got.
"I was just starting to get a taste of rep footy then, making that CQ side and travelling to Brisbane but I think Origin in 1980 – I was only 10 – probably gave you that meaning of Queensland.
"We were invited guests at the 1981 [Origin] game. They sat us on chairs on the inside of the signage and I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Geoff Toovey was the halfback for the New South Wales side and 20 years later I was the hooker [for Queensland] and he was the hooker [for New South Wales] for Origin.
"We listened to the first Origin on the radio but the next year, to be actually playing for Queensland and to get a chance to see it live, it had a real impact on me.
"Obviously you want to represent as far as you can go but I reckon Origin gave me that meaning of the jersey that I was presented. And it was the same jersey that they wore; it had the Q with the kangaroo beside it. It had the big laces with the big collar and the full sleeve and big heavy material and big plastic number stitched on, seven on the front and on the back and I think Origin gave you that meaning of what the jersey was about."
In his first year in the old New South Wales Rugby League competition, a 22-year-old Hetherington was used as a centre and five-eighth for the Gold Coast Chargers in 1992 and was touted as the understudy to 'The King' Wally Lewis.
In 1994 he was lured to Canterbury as a potential replacement for legendary Bulldogs five-eighth Terry Lamb but under the advisement of Billy Johnstone, Canterbury coach Chris Anderson shifted Hetherington to hooker.
"It was just fortunate enough timing-wise for me, Geordi Peats was the hooker and he got hurt, Ben Gillies they tried and he got hurt so they threw me in there," Hetherington recalls of his move into the front row.
"What Chris Anderson did, he cut four hours of footage of Steve Walters and said, 'You watch that. That's how a hooker plays.' And he thought I had quite a similar game to him so I studied Box's footage for hours and hours, just watching what he did. He's one of our great hookers and I'm proud to say that I got a chance to get there on the back of him."
Indeed, it wasn't until Walters aligned with Super League in 1997 with North Queensland that Maroons selectors had to go looking for another No.9. In 1997 Jamie Goddard and Wayne Bartrim were used as the Blues wrapped up the Series in two games before a 27-year-old Hetherington was given the nod for Game One of the 1998 Series, the news broken to him by his Wattle Grove neighbour, Ross Lobb.
"The call-up was special. It was on the radio and I didn't hear it. Me neighbour, who was a mad Bulldogs supporter, he come running across the road and was proud to tell me," Hetherington recalls, who went on to play eight Origins for Queensland and was man of the match in Game One of the 1999 Series.
"He was more joyful than me! Even though he was a Blues bloke, he was happy for me. He was yelling and cooeeing as he's running across the road, 'You're in! You're in!' 'I'm in what? Trouble?'
"People say that you dream of it as a kid and you do, you really do and when I finally got me chance... I wasn't sure that I was ever going to with 'Boxy' running around and when I first started playing hooker I think there were seven Queensland hookers playing in the NRL at that point so I had to work really hard because I had that burning desire that I wanted to play for Queensland.
"When they tell you you're in... Joy."