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NSW celebrate their Origin III win.

With State of Origin set to be played after the grand final this year due to disruption from the coronavirus pandemic, the question has been raised whether this could become a permanent arrangement.

Would the Origin series be better served as a standalone post-season fixture or would the drawbacks outweight any potential upside?

For editor Paul Suttor

If you were planning a rugby league season without any of the precedents set by the history books, you’d start with the club competition, then progress to an interstate contest and then move into international waters.

Logically, that is the natural order of events.

The rescheduled 2020 calendar brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic gives rugby league in Australia a chance to commit to the natural progression of how a season should play out.

NRL Classic: State of Origin I, 1998

If you’re good enough to play for your club and you play really well, you could represent your state. And from those 34 players, the cream rises to the top to select the 17 players best equipped to represent Australia in the Test arena.

And it would also end the incessant debate about the impact of Origin on the clubs midway through the season - although a new cacophony of gibber will spring up about whether the interstate series is better at the end of the season or in the middle, which is kind of what we’re doing here right now.

Anyway, the sporting landscape in Australia has changed since Origin first burst onto the scene in 1980.

Back then, rugby league was played in two major competitions in Australia based around Sydney and Brisbane. Neither competition had teams outside the city limits.

The grand final would have to be held in the last weekend in September because cricket needed to use major grounds like the SCG in October for the Sheffield Shield.

Those days are long gone - it’s time for the NRL to claim October in the national sporting consciousness. 

The Bathurst 1000 is not the Goliath it once was, cricket’s calendar is so haphazard at the best of times you can never be certain when a Test series will be starting in Australia to kick off the summer season as the national team is often away on an insignificant limited-overs tour during October.

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There’s a yawning hole in the national sports calendar where most fans are yawning their way through the month, yearning for top-shelf contests.

Three games over the course of the month, then Tests in November, giving international league its time to shine whether in this part of the world or in the northern hemisphere.

Origin would own October. It’s not just alliteration, it makes sense.

Against reporter Chris Kennedy

Given everything going on in the world this year, it'd be great if Origin ended up happening at the end of the year – but it should be a one-off and return to its rightful place in the middle of the year in 2021.

For as long as I can remember there have been discussions on how to "fix" Origin. The regular season goes through a lull with the best players out, some clubs are more disrupted than others with injuries and fatigue and unavailable stars, etc.

Well if it ain't broke don't fix it. The recent tweak to make the middle game of the Origin series on the Sunday of a standalone rep weekend was a masterstroke.

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Now a player who plays all three Origin games may miss just a single NRL game. Each club has a single bye.

Origin is the biggest thing in our sport along with the grand final and the NRL should be very wary about tinkering with the magic that makes it work.

Even under the old arrangement the teams with more Origin players usually fared better despite the disruption because they simply had more elite players.

I am a huge apologist for international footy but it seems very apparent that end-of-season internationals draw less public interest than it should in part because the season is over, cricket and soccer and trips to the beach are calling and people have moved on.

Plus if Origin is in the post-season that cuts into the already-limited window for what international football we already have.

Our sport's showpiece wouldn't be generating the same public interest in the post-season and that's before we get to the impact on the players.

Those from non-finals clubs will be out of sight out of mind come team selections and if there are injuries, new players will have to be called up who may not have played in two months by the time game three rolls around.

And there's also a chance for a big disparity between the states. For argument's sake, say this year the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans all miss the finals and the Storm are knocked out in week one, with a final four of Roosters, Souths, Eels and Raiders in the prelims.

The reverse would have applied in 2015 for example, when the Storm, Broncos and Cowboys all made the final four; almost the entire Maroons squad played a grand final or grand final qualifier that year while half the Blues team either missed finals or went out in week one.

It will certainly be interesting to see how it works this year with a post-season Origin series but it should return to its lofty mid-season perch next year.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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