No hint of teams on the edge: Origin’s new era appreciated, but lacking heat

Related Story: Baby Blues edge rugged Origin opener over new-look Maroons Related Story: Maroons have come back from worse, Walters says

You knew Queensland was going to win State of Origin I even in that instant before Valentine Holmes intercepted James Maloney's errant pass and bolted 90 metres for a pulsating try.

The Maroons still trailed 8-6. But as Holmes sprinted to the line it was obvious his heist would spark a soul destroying against-the-odds Queensland comeback, as had happened so many times down the years.

Maloney would be hounded and ritually humiliated for his game-losing mistakes, inheriting the role of whipping boy from the injured Mitchell Pearce.

And so we sat back and watched as … the Maroons did not win. This time, in the absence of so many retired/injured champions, sheer bloody-minded 'Queenslandness' was no match for breathtaking speed and youthful exuberance.

Many would have thought the try to Valentine Holmes would trigger a Maroons triumph.

Thus the plot was twisted and Origin's new era began. Not only was Queensland's era of domination imperilled, but from this sample of one, the very nature of Origin had changed.

A game that ran pretty much to expectations; few notable physical clashes and rookies like Blues hooker Damien Cook performing like seasoned veterans on the stage that is supposed to expose their callow youth. This was Origin, but not as we knew it.

The first taste of this new and seemingly gentler Origin era came not on the ground but in the MCG's Legends Room where dignitaries in shiny new blue or maroon scarves gathered to toast the game and each other.

New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) chairman Dr George Peponis best captured the mood as he stood amiably with his Queensland counterpart and lauded the contribution of former Maroons skipper Cameron Smith to the game.

This might have been a mere ceremonial duty. But the sight of the NSWRL chief talking warmly about the man who had contributed more than any other to the Blues' misery over the past decade, while be-suited gents in blues scarves applauded generously, was slightly disconcerting.

Although rather than his embrace of the old enemy, it was Peponis's characterisation of new coach Brad Fittler that prepared onlookers for what Origin was about to become.

"When he was coaching in the Country versus City game in Dubbo, Freddy wanted the players to sleep outside at the zoo the night before the game," said Peponis.

"We didn't allow that one."

Presumably, Fittler hoped to prepare his players for the game by exposing them to the sounds of lions and rhinos believing anything his sleep-deprived team encountered after that would seem far less intimidating.

Brad Fittler smiles as he walks past Josh Addo-Carr after State of Origin I.

Although Fittler did not get to test that theory, this was just one example of the outside-the-box thinking that had replaced the usual contrived anger and dark conspiracy theories under his watch in the lead-up to Origin I.

At the same time, the ready smile of Queensland's universally respected coach Kevin Walters had created the very un-Origin impression the Blues and Maroons were going to Melbourne to play a game of football.

Not, as had seemed the case during the traditionally rancorous Origin lead-up, engage in a form of ritual bloodletting.

Origin opener lacks heat of previous editions

Whether it was this sense of friendly detente, or the relative inexperience of the two teams finding their way on the big stage, Origin I had more the feeling of an excellent club match between two emerging contenders than the gladiatorial intensity of old Origin.

No doubt the many New South Wales debutants and the Queenslander youngsters were reminded of the long and bitter history between the warring states. But in the absence of Queensland's old guard, and the exiled Blues' hard man Andrew Fifita, the only score to be settled was the score itself.

The outcome was a perfectly good game of football played before a crowd that murmured more than it roared. New Origin was appreciated, but not really felt.

Maybe the subdued atmosphere was due to the cavernous MCG that is not well suited to rectangular ground sports, even when packed with 87,122 fans. The volume will be turned up in Sydney and Brisbane.

The new-look Blues were not overawed by the occasion at the MCG.

Perhaps the fact the supposedly neutral Melbourne fans have been indoctrinated in Maroon lore by the holy Storm trinity of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater meant they did not rise to the Blues heroics.

Over-officious referees were predesignated villains, but they blew just five penalties. Perhaps they heeded the calls of those demanding they ignore the rules or, more sensibly, maybe the players simply observed them.

Either way, one traditional source of confected Origin outrage — a team allegedly deprived of victory by a controversial call — was also missing.

Most significantly, there was no hint of the heated clashes that are a now unspoken part of Origin's attraction. It was not the violence itself that was missed, but the sense both teams were playing on the very edge and all hell could break loose.

But if this is a new era of Origin, the series now hinges on its most traditional plotline — Queensland defying the odds and coming back from a seemingly hopeless position to break the Blues' hearts.

Should veteran Billy Slater return and add the vital spark the flat Queenslanders were missing, normal transmission will have been resumed at least until next year.

As it stands, it feels like Origin has changed forever into something more approximating a normal game of football.

It will take a few more editions played in the more boisterous home environment to decide whether this is a good thing.

Original Article


ABC .net


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