Origin period allows lesser lights to emerge from shadows

If it wasn’t for State of Origin we may not know about Connor Tracey’s perseverance to overcome three knee reconstructions before debuting with South Sydney.

Or St George Illawarra forward Mitch Allgood’s transformation from schnitzel eating champion to vegan since his previous NRL appearance 1891 days earlier.

Or the rise of former Manchester United scholarship holder Herbie Farnworth at Brisbane.

And, we wouldn’t have seen the emotion-charged jersey presentations to Farnworth - by his uncle Brian Foley, a former Wigan youth development manager - and fellow Broncos rookies Xavier Coates, Keenan Palasia and Rhys Kennedy.

Or former Australian captain Gorden Tallis in tears on Fox League as Billy Walters - the son of Queensland coach Kevin Walters - made his debut for Melbourne.

They were among the rookies and journeymen given their chance to shine during the Origin stand down period when players on NSW or Queensland duty were unavailable to their clubs.

Each year there is debate about the impact Origin has on the Telstra Premiership and calls for change but the six-week period also provides fresh storylines at a time when interest may be starting to wane for some fans.

Penrith have revived their season after winning all four of their matches since the teams for Origin I were announced after round 11, while Melbourne leapfrogged South Sydney and are six points clear of the Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters as outright competition leaders.

With pre-Origin competition leaders, Souths, being the only team not to win a match during the series, it could be argued it is a mid-year leveller that ensures more games later in the season will have a bearing on the finals.

Queensland and Storm prop Christian Welch recently took to social media to express this view and he described the Origin period as “a great competitive balance mechanism for the NRL”.

Welch told NRL.com: “I know it inconveniences clubs and it is not necessarily fair as the successful clubs have a really big load of Origin players but I think it gives the clubs that are struggling the odd win and lets them stay in touch with the eight.

"I think that is really important for fans and engagement. I think dead rubbers are a bit of an issue towards the end of the season for the fans, the competition and the broadcaster.”

He also pointed out that the best teams usually still end up meeting in the grand final.

"The NRL gets bashed a bit around Origin time," Welch said.

"I think people really underestimate the value of having Origin mid-season and I don’t think it impacts on who wins the premiership at the end of the season.”

A ladder based on results since round 11 shows that Manly, Canberra and Parramatta are other clubs to have done well during the Origin period, while Cronulla, Brisbane and North Queensland have struggled.

Yet the Sharks have only had one player involved in each Origin, while Melbourne has six representatives in Wednesday night’s decider.

The NRL has reduced the impact of Origin on the Telstra Premiership with the introduction of the stand-alone representative weekend, which this season included the second match of the series in Perth.

Therefore, clubs are only directly affected by Origin I and III, with split rounds and byes reducing the number of Telstra Premiership games between the naming of the first NSW and Queensland teams and Wednesday night’s decider to 32.

There are plans for New Zealand to play Tonga in Auckland on an annual basis during the stand-alone representative weekend, which also features other Oceania Cup and Pacific Test fixtures, as well as women’s State of Origin.

Some have advocated a stand-alone representative round to coincide with each Origin but there are concerns about the depth of talent for Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and PNG to each be able to play three mid-season Tests.

There is unlikely to be any significant change until the current broadcast deal expires in 2022 as television ratings during the Origin period are comparable to the rest of the season.

According to media website tvblackbox.com.au, 720,000 viewers tuned in to last Sunday's Sharks-Broncos matches, slightly below the average Sunday viewership for NRL games on Nine and Fox Sports of 751,000.

Friday night's Tigers-Roosters clash drew 813,000 viewers, compared to an average free-to-air and pay-tv audience of 885,000 in the time slot during the previous 15 rounds.

Thursday night's Dragons-Storm game was watched by 722,000 fans on Nine and Fox Sports, below the 880,000 average across the season, while 260,000 pay-tv viewers tuned in to Saturday night's Knights-Warriors match.