Sport AFL Nathan Burke: It’s time for AFL to revisit State of Origin concept

Nathan Burke: It’s time for AFL to revisit State of Origin concept

Simon Madden with the 1989 State of Origin trophy after Victoria defeated South Australia.
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Driving past a field in south-east Queensland last week I saw a big white cow with the word ‘DO’ painted on its flank.

On the next cow was written ‘IT’, and the third cow along had the letters ‘QLD’.

It took me a second to get the animals in the right order and realise this was the farmers’ patriotic way of spurring on the Queensland State of Origin team in the Game III decider.

It was a novel way to display your passion and got me thinking what a shame it is that AFL fans don’t get an opportunity to display their state-based allegiances.

Unfortunately the AFL’s version of State of Origin died many years ago. That demise came about because of a combination of player apathy and club pressure that pushed the concept off the edge.

Ultimately it was the watering down of the rivalries by introducing the multi-state Allies concept that finally pushed AFL State of Origin into oblivion.

Such a game relies not on the contest itself, but on the rivalry.

Most Victorians love watching NRL Origin and can easily get caught up in the state v state hype.

It matters little that once the game starts the hardened AFL fan quickly tires of the repetitive nature of the sport.

While sitting in the hotel lobby watching the game with some mildly entertained Victorians I started to think about the halcyon days of AFL State of Origin, when playing in the the Big V jumper was the ultimate honour.

For South Australia or Western Australia players, wearing their strip was like carrying the weight of your supporters on your back.

People in Collingwood jumpers would cheer you on. Carlton fans would pat you on the back and the responsibility to win was enormous.

Victoria is the home of footy, produces the best footballers and State of Origin forced players to prove it.

It was also a chance to test yourself at the highest level in your sport.

The best of the best playing against each other in a finals-type atmosphere. You either coped at that level or you didn’t.

Maybe this is also what scared off some of the wimps who pulled out and helped to let the concept die. 

Personally I was disgusted each time an elite player mysteriously came down with a one-week injury before an Origin game. Whatever respect I had for them was immediately lost.

Last week I spent time working with the Under-18 Victorian Metro Girls at the National Championships and I can tell you they were all  immensely proud to don the Big V.

Despite none of them being born the last time a men’s Victorian team donned the jumper, the girls respected the Big V and took on the responsibility all wearers have in the past.

I have no doubt it was a large factor in both the Metro and Country teams going undefeated for the week.

Perhaps if we ever want to see State of Origin return, we should give up on the current crop of players and work on the up and comers.

Youngsters seem to have the will to test themselves and have pride in the jumper and state they come from.

The AFL should nurture that and find a way to revive the spirit of of the  Origin games.

The lads who recently competed in the Under-18 National Championships displayed enormous amounts of passion, but isn’t it a pity that age 17 is the last time they will wear a Big V at the elite level?

In the spirit of Teddy Whitten I would ask all AFL players to get together with the AFLPA and the league to again push for a State of Origin  fixture.

We could have a week off in the middle of the year and play a game of Victoria v SA at the MCG or Adelaide Oval.

Spend the money the league wastes on AFLX and make it happen.

Nathan Burke is a former St Kilda captain who played 323 AFL games for the Saints, winning three Trevor Barker Awards as best-and-fairest player.

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