The Queensland side set up camp in Melbourne ahead of the second game of the 2015 Holden State of Origin series.

Rugby league takes over Melbourne

Melbourne has been waiting almost 20 years for a week like this.

With three rugby league games in seven days the NRL is about to take centre stage in (arguably) the nation's sporting capital.

Melbourne will host Parramatta at AAMI Park on Monday night and Brisbane next Sunday while over the road State of Origin will return to the MCG for the first time since 1997 with Game Two of the 2015 series on Wednesday night.

 

 

It is just reward for a Victorian rugby league community that has continued to go from strength to strength since the Storm entered the competition back in 1998.

The purple pride is now an established part of Melbourne's sporting culture. 

The Storm have an average crowd of more than 15,000 this season, the seventh-best attendance rate in the NRL.

That is a stellar achievement considering how saturated the Melbourne sporting market is on a year-round basis.

Everyone loves a winner, so the fact the Storm has made the finals 11 of the past 12 seasons has certainly not hurt their cause.

But going along to AAMI Park you realise that these are no fair-weather fans, they bleed purple.

Billy Slater is now a beloved icon of sport in Melbourne, with 2015 his 12th season in first grade.

He knows just how much a week like this means to fans of the game in the Victorian capital.

 

 

"It is a huge week for rugby league in this town," Slater said.

"Obviously Melbourne Storm have been down here for more than 15 years and the people past and present have done a great job, not just with the club but the game in general. 

"The showpiece of our game coming down here and being broadcast in front of hopefully close to 100,000 people and a big television audience, that is invaluable to us."

The last time Origin came to town was in 2012, when 56,021 fans filled Etihad Stadium.

Now for the first time in 18 years the game's showpiece event returns to the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

It was in Game Two of the '94 series that this venue played host to the biggest crowd in Origin history as 87,161 people saw NSW topple Queensland 14-0.

That record now looks to be in serious jeopardy with 80,000 tickets already sold for Wednesday night.

"This game has been talked about in Melbourne since the start of the year to be honest with you," Storm and Maroons captain Cameron Smith said.

"A lot of people I see around at Storm games and even at training, they've said they've already had their tickets for months and they're already looking forward to a State of Origin match being back on the MCG again.

"It has been a pretty big build up down here. I know for all the rugby league supporters and sport supporters in general, Melbourne people love a contest and there is no bigger contest than NSW versus Queensland."

Like Slater, Smith has not only witnessed but has been an integral part of growing the game in Victoria for more than a decade.

In his eyes a week such as this is a testament to how far the sport has come in his time.

"The sport is growing every year," Smith said.

"When I first started it wasn't overly well known but now people stop you in the street, they say g'day to you and they'll ask how the other guys are going. 

"It is a great thing to see the game take centre stage here in Melbourne."