How the State of Origin can make you a better person!

Or five excuses for watching the series

By Paul Gallagher

Nobody needs a specific reason to watch the annual State of Origin rugby league series. If anything, it’s an obligation for those born in either New South Wales or Queensland.

You are born. Your blood is either Blue or Maroon. You die. Somewhere in between, you watch all three epic matches every year.

But what you may not have appreciated is how much the sporting encounters can actually make you a better person.

Think of it as food for the soul, at least when chowing down on a plate of chips and consuming (responsibly) a non-XXXX beer during halftime.

Spirit outranks skill

If there’s one certainty in every Origin campaign, Queenslanders will never give up. In fact, the team is likely to both attack and defend in ways that seem superhuman. For a NSW fan, it’s appropriate to say you admire such tenacity and that it is ‘good for the game’, but the truth is you hate it! It frustrates you how those northerners just NEVER QUIT!

The common denominator in everything the Maroons do is their legendary ‘spirit’! For we Blues fans, I still have no idea how they do it, but the Queenslanders just have a way of digging deep when the chips are down.

Such is their reputation that most Blues fans will fear an inevitable come-from-behind Queensland win even when the Blues are well ahead with a minute to go. They just never say ‘die’!

Transferring to life, spirit will always triumph over talent—in the long run. Sure, gifted people win prizes, and get promotions. But the ultimate honours go to the people and organisations with character and guts.

In Origin language—as in life—a skilled team of talented players is still no match for an opponent with a confident spirit and passion.

Origin lesson for life #1:
‘Talent will win you games, but spirit wins you a series!’

X factor in the stands

Origin wins come from a combination of talented players, strategic coaching, and one special X factor: The CROWD!

Plenty of matches have been won or lost on the basis of a vocal capacity crowd willing their team to a victory. Again, Queensland seems to have the edge when it comes to vocal supporters.

There’s a lesson for life too, merely that big endeavours never work in isolation. You need the vocal support and recognition of people who care about you and your capacity to do big things.

Sometimes, we fall for the trap of a positive tweet or favourable Facebook post as the measure of our success. It’s bigger than that. You need to focus on what your ‘fans’ think of you—the ones who are loyal to you as a person, and to your products for what you represent.

Sure the fans will still like you when you’re down, but isn’t that a good thing?

Origin lesson for life #2:
‘Convert casual likers to fans, and be encouraged by their longer lasting loyalty’

It’s time to move on

Origin in 2019 is a lot different to the games that were fought in past decades. For one, there’s a lot less ‘biff’ than we previously witnessed.

As a dedicated Origin enthusiast from the first match in 1980, I watched a tradition form from aggressive, no-compromise encounters. It often resulted in a wide range of scuffles, brawls, punches and free-for-all fights that became legends!

Crowds loved it, and cheered on the ‘biff’ gleefully like it was a gladiatorial contest. (Go no further than Game 2 in 1995, when the voice of rugby league, game caller Ray Warren, famously said ‘This is one of the best!’)

Thankfully, the ‘biff’ is more rare and certainly less important than a display of skill and spirit. The so-called ‘punching ban’ of 2013 followed the suspension of players Paul Gallen and Trent Merrin (Origin 1, 2013) and led to the more skills-based game we have today.

Biff may have seemed like a feature at the time, but it was actually undercutting the growth of junior rugby league, with school principals crying out for change as they watched the effect on boys. Society too needed less displays of men using violence and aggression to solve problems.

The game evolved, proved itself better than a clash of fists into something smarter, more skilled.

Life should work the same way, maturing with wisdom and experience as you grow, learn and develop.

Origin lesson for life #3:
‘Grow into something better than what you were.’

’That’s not a try! That’s a miracle!’

One of the greatest moments in Origin history was the Mark Coyne try of 1994. With less than a minute to go, NSW was leading and Queensland had one set of six tackles to go.

What happened next is the stuff of legend, ending in a try in the corner to Mark Coyne’.

Look a bit closer though and you’ll notice one key ingredient of the ‘miracle’ was to merely keep the ball moving, shifting from one side of the field to the other. Such brave end-of-game desperation resulted in a just reward.

In life too, when you’ve got nothing to lose, keep trying something. Move positions a little, try someone else in a role, allow for something different.

Keep the ball moving!

And if you think life is at its worst right now, remember the Maroons! Being in the last minute means nothing to them but an opportunity to win!

Origin lesson for life #4:
‘Keep the ball moving, and keep believing you still have time to win!’

Don’t be surprised at who is watching

It’s easy to think the State of Origin series is a wholly east cost phenomena in Australia. You’d be wrong.

The evidence:

  • At its height, the games have been broadcast into more than 90 countries

  • In Papua New Guinea, the game is ‘something of a national obsession’. It was reported that in 2003, ‘television sets were hurled into the sea (and) fights broke out in the streets of the capital Port Moresby’.

  • Last year, TV network 9 reported ‘9.92 million Australians’ watched the broadcast. ‘State of Origin I has delivered the biggest television audience of 2018 with a national average of 3.414 million viewers.’

If life—as much as in football—it’s easy to get myopic and introverted in our focus, short-sighted to just the game in front of us. Outside of your current day, watching from the sidelines are friends, families, customers, and people with an interest in you. While some may want to watch the drama of your life or pursuits, most just want to see quality on display.

Social media tells you life is but a dramatic and often unreal post or comment. The reality is there are people who genuinely want you to succeed. They want you to find and realise that dream, to be better than you’ve thought possible.

The people who matter in your life want you to win the series even if losing the game.

Origin lesson for life #5
’Look at the stands. There are people standing for you there.’


PS: My tip for the series this year: Heart says Blue; head says Maroon.

Paul Gallagher is a writer, journalist, political biographer and communications specialist in Melbourne, Australia. He is a Blues fan by ‘origin’, raised in the shadows of old Cumberland Stadium in Parramatta. Main photo credit: "NYC STATE OF ORIGIN BRAWL" by NAPARAZZI is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0