INTRODUCTION OF ORIGIN by Andrew Pelechaty
While the term ‘State of Origin’ is synonymous with the rugby league series between Queensland and NSW, the concept was actually started by the Australian Football League.
State of Origin had been discussed as early as the 1970s, spearheaded by Western and South Australia, who were sick of being beaten by the more powerful Victorian sides, as the VFL’s power gave it pick of the best players. From 1899 to 1979, ‘The Big V’ won 74 out of 98 games against South Australia, and 50 of 62 against WA. This is in direct correlation to NSW’s dominance in rugby league ‘interstate matches’ against Queensland until the early 1980s.
While the State of Origin concept was keenly supported by WA, the VFL wasn’t as keen. Despite their reluctance, the first AFL State of Origin was held in October 1977 at Subiaco Oval (about two-and-a-half years before the first rugby league State of Origin at Lang Park). WA cruised to victory 23.13.151 to 8.9. 57, supported by a patriotic WA crowd. Western Australia’s Barry Cable, who played in the VFL for North Melbourne, was adjudged best on ground. Positive media reaction to the game and even the approval of the VFL showed that State of Origin was a success. More importantly, word had spread to QRL President Ron McAuliffe about the concept, which set the wheels in motion for rugby league’s State of Origin version.
AFL ORIGIN 1978-99 AND 2008 HALL OF FAME MATCH Following that success, an expanded AFL State of Origin series was held from 1978-1981, with Tasmania, ACT and Queensland joining VIC, SA and WA. A Perth State of Origin carnival was held in 1979 (played from 4-8 October), with WA winning the ‘Section One’ Final and Queensland the ‘Section Two’ final. Adelaide held their own three-day State of Origin carnival in 1980 (11-13 October), featuring SA, Tasmania, VIC and WA. Victoria defeated SA in the final.
From 1982-1987 the AFL State of Origin was cut back to three states with Victoria playing SA and WA in a two-game series. A special ‘Adelaide Bicentennial Carnival’ was held in March 1988 at Football Park. The four day State of origin tournament featured Northern Territory, Tasmania, Australian Amateurs, ACT, Victoria, WA, VFA (Victorian Football Association), QLD, SA and NSW. SA won the ‘Section One’ Final while Northern Territory won the ‘Section Two’ final. This was followed by a one-off State of Origin game between WA and Victoria in Perth in early July, won easily by Victoria.
From 1989-1993, NSW, Tasmania, and Queensland became involved in the AFL State of Origin series, though the participation of states varied from year to year. For instance, NSW played in 1990 and 1992, but a combined ACT/NSW team played in 1993. In 1992, NSW played QLD in an AFL State of Origin match, with NSW winning by nearly 100 points. In 1994, South Australia played Victoria in a one-off Origin at Football Park in Adelaide, with South Australia winning by two points. The Allies team was introduced in 1994 (comprising of players from QLD, NSW, NT, Tasmania and ACT) to join VIC, WA and SA.
By the late nineties, the importance of the premiership race meant the AFL State of Origin games were glorified exhibition games. It didn’t help that VIC, WA, SA and The Allies only played one game each in a stand-alone weekend in the middle of the packed AFL premiership season (e.g VIC would play SA and WA would play the Allies). Despite this, one special moment occurred in 1995, with ‘Mr Football’ Ted Whitten being cheered by almost 65,000 at the MCG as Victoria played South Australia. Whitten, who was dying of prostate cancer, enthusiastically gestured to the crowd. While the game was a one-sided contest (Victoria won by 63 points), this memory of Mr. Whitten that afternoon has endured. The final Origin was in 1999 at the MCG, with Victoria defeating South Australia by 54 points.
The AFL State of Origin concept was revived in May 2008, with a one-off ‘Hall of Fame Tribute Match’ between Victoria and The Dream Team for the game’s 150th anniversary celebrations. In front of over 69,000 at the MCG, The Big V won a high scoring match 21.11.137 to 18.12.120. The match was designed to celebrate not only the anniversary but also the contribution of AFL State of Origin and interstate football after plans for a more wide-reaching Origin carnival were scrapped.
AFTERMATH As previously mentioned, the expansion of the VFL to the AFL during the 1990s hurt the AFL State of Origin concept. The success of the West Coast Eagles (premierships in 1992, ’94 and 2006), Adelaide Crows (back-to-back flags in 1997 and ’98) and – to a lesser extent – Port Adelaide (their only flag in 2004) saw the AFL establish itself as (some would argue) the premier football code in Australia, especially considering the success of the Brisbane Lions (a hat-trick of flags from 2001-2003) and Sydney Swans (premierships in 2005 and 2012), as well as the recent inclusion of the Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants (who are also making inroads into Canberra, another league stronghold). The only states/territories not to have an AFL team are Tasmania, ACT and NT, although AFL premiership matches are played in those areas every season.
Compare that to rugby league’s attempts to invade AFL territory; the Adelaide Rams and Perth Reds both flopped, though the demise of Rams and Reds was hastened by the NRL’s restructuring after Super League. Victoria’s team, the Melbourne Storm, albeit very successful since its inception in 1999 (two “official” premierships and a total of six grand finals), only has a small, dedicated fan base compared to the massive AFL crowds at the MCG and Docklands every weekend.
While rugby league’s State of Origin continues to thrive after thirty years, it’s safe to say the AFL version will remain dormant for the foreseeable future. The importance attached to the AFL premiership means clubs are unlikely to risk their best players for a revival of the Origin concept, save for a one-off ‘celebration’ like the Hall of Fame match.
REFERENCES Hess. R, Nicholson. M, Stewart. B, De Moore. G (2008), ‘A National Game: The History of Australian Rules Football’, 2008, Victoria : Penguin Group
www.wikipedia.org , AFL Tribute Match, www.wikipedia.org , AFL Hall of Fame,