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For & Against: Should neutral Origin matches continue?

State of Origin is rugby league's greatest selling point. The jewel in the game's crown since 1980.

The showpiece event has been taken to cities like Perth and Melbourne in recent years to attract a wider audience to the game.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was planned that Origin would be played for the first time in Adelaide in 2020. But as of today, the venues for all three matches are yet to be confirmed with the latest biosecurity measures to be considered before a decision is reached.

Traditionalists have long argued that NSW and Queensland are the spiritual home of rugby league and as such the old format of two games in Sydney and one in Brisbane one year and vice versa the next should never be tampered with.

In this week's For & Against, one of Queensland's favourite sons Paul Vautin joins NRL.com senior reporter Margie McDonald to debate whether there should be an Origin game in neutral territory every season.

For

NRL.com senior reporter Margie McDonald

Seems to me the other states and territories in Australia are highly amused, intrigued - even captivated - by this annual "hate" shown between Queensland and NSW footballers.

Judging by the television ratings in WA, SA, NT, VIC, and TAS along with the "Sold Out" signs that have been pinned up in Perth and Melbourne, other Australian residents really get into the intensity of 34 men slugging it out over a Steeden.

The Blues enjoyed a big win in front of a huge crowd in Perth in Game 2, 2019.
The Blues enjoyed a big win in front of a huge crowd in Perth in Game 2, 2019. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

There are probably those still who can't quite fathom why three games create so many newspaper stories, radio and television items, panel discussions, analysis, back-and-front page photographs, cartoons, posters ... especially with the two most unlikely of mascots: a cane toad and a cockroach. 

Those newcomers are the people the NRL want in next year's television ratings, or better still fronting up at the gate with tickets.

We can count on their curiosity not being able to keep them away. We want them to come and try to find out just what makes State of Origin converts tick.

That assignment has already been completed in Queensland and NSW.

So that's why the game must load up the wagons and head out to other frontiers to spread the word and welcome other sports lovers into the congregation.

Since 1980, there has only been 11 neutral games played compared with 45 in NSW and 54 in Queensland so it's time for a little catch-up work.

And I'm betting that as the women’s game continues to trend up in popularity that’s another Origin that needs to spread its wings.

Better still, since State of Origin is broadcast to 91 countries, let’s not confine ourselves to within Australia's borders.

The AFL and A-League can only dream of having a major domestic game played internationally.

Origin coaches excited for Adelaide

Against

Maroons legend and Channel Nine commentator Paul Vautin

It's quite simple for me. It's Queensland versus New South Wales.

It is not South Australia versus Queensland, or New South Wales versus Western Australia.

Let's face it, State of Origin is the best football a player can play and in saying that, Origins are the best games for people to go and watch.

People's lives revolve around Origin, that's how much it means to the fans of both states. They just go nuts over it.

So that's why I believe each year they need two games in one state and one in the other, and then swap around the next time.

Why? Because the Queensland and New South Wales fans deserve that. They put so much into it with tickets and travel and organising their schedules to get to games.

As a former Maroon, playing in both states meant a lot to me.

We used to run out from the dressing rooms at Lang Park and have to run over five wooden slats just before the gate onto the field.

Paul Vautin and The King share a sweet victory in Sydney in 1987.
Paul Vautin and The King share a sweet victory in Sydney in 1987.

I used to run out behind "The King" and when your boots hit the wood, that was when the crowd would first see you. They would all get on their feet and cheer like mad – maybe that was for Wally.

I'm sitting here now with the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. It meant so much to run out and play in front of your home crowd with all that noise.

On the other hand, to run out onto the SCG in the middle of winter on a bog track and get booed all the way out, you just loved it. That also worked for me because I was thinking, "Here we go; I'm now the enemy; How good's this?"

I'd always look for my family, my mum and dad in the crowd at Lang Park. Sometimes I'd find them and sometimes I didn't but I felt immediately at home because everyone was rooting for me and they were all from Queensland.

I never played a neutral game but I coached two of them in 1995 and 1997 – both at the MCG – and we actually won a series there with that second game win in 1995. But it just wasn't the same as winning the shield in Sydney or Brisbane.

And I believe the novelty wore off a bit with a neutral venue. In the 1994 game at the MCG they had more than 87,000 fans. Then in 1995 they had almost 53,000 but in 1997 there was only 25,000.

Top five Brisbane Origin moments

I hear you say Origin games in other cities help grow the game. I was in Perth last year for the second game of the series and it just did not have that same feel.

Most of the fans were from Queensland or New South Wales and it cost them thousands of dollars just to get there.

 

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