Published in Rugby League World in 2010:
Mate against Mate, State against State! A look back on the 30-year history of Rugby League’s greatest competition, the State of Origin.
When, in 2001, Gene Miles, the great Queensland centre of the 1980s, uttered the words “Number seven, Allan Langer” as he announced the Maroons’ line-up for their third game against New South Wales, Rugby League’s State of Origin was creating another new life for itself. It had used up about five already, so what was another one? And that’s because, for the nth time in its 20-year history, the Origin concept was, according to the hysterical Sydney media, on the verge of extinction due to their 3-0 series victory a year earlier which had culminated in an embarrassingly easy 56-16 scoreline for the Blues. As we all know, Alfie came back from Warrington at the ‘past-it’ age of 35, and ran the arrogant Blues ragged with the help of Darren Lockyer, not for the first time, to record an absolutely sensational, against-all-odds series victory for the Maroons.
That’s not the first time, nor the last, that people have questioned the viability of State of Origin. In fact, if New South Wales had won the inaugural game in 1980, there wouldn’t have been another. If they had triumphed, as they so nearly did when they led 15-0 in 1981, there probably wouldn’t have been another. State of Origin might be the highest standard of Rugby League Football around today, but it’s very existence has all too often hung by a thread.
It all began in 1980 as the third Interstate game was scrapped in favour of a new-fangled concept that allowed players to play for their own State, not the State where they had ended up playing. Several Queenslanders were plying their weekly trade for the richer Sydney clubs and were therefore obliged to represent them in Interstate football. Origin had actually been called for from as far back as 1964 when the Brisbane-based Courier Mail writer Jack Reardon declared: “While the NSW score was mounting at the SCG last dismal Tuesday, someone in the press seats suggested that Queensland should be allowed to call on their former players now with Sydney clubs.” It had even been suggested in 1900 when the New South Wales three-quarter Lonnie Spragg moved north. “Even though residing in Rockhampton, I am of the opinion he should play for New South Wales. the time has arrived , I think, for the observance of [such] a qualification for players in inter-colonial matches,” wrote ‘the Cynic’ in The Referee.
It would be 80 years until he was listened to, and having once again been trounced by New South Wales in the first two matches of Interstate, it was finally agreed that Queensland could, for the third game, call up John Lang and Kerry Boustead from Easts, Greg Oliphant and Rod Morris from Balmain, Rod Reddy from St George, Allan Smith from Norths and last but not least, the absolutely legendary Arthur Beetson from the Parramatta Eels reserve-grade side. Yes, Artie was by now a reserve-grader.
Arthur Beetson is one of Australian Rugby League’s seven ‘immortals’; the others being Clive Churchill, Johnny Raper, Reg Gasnier, Bob Fulton, Graeme Langlands and Wally Lewis. Forget Lewis, the greatest-ever Origin player, for the time being; if it wasn’t for the deeds of Arthur Beetson on that fabulous night in July 1980, State of Origin would have died 80 minutes after it had been born. That’s because Queensland absolutely had to win. For years they had pushed Sydney’s governing body to adapt its Interstate rules to Origin’s. Senator Ron McAuliffe, the godfather of Queensland Rugby League, sold the concept as hard as he could, and with Interstate on its last legs on the basis of NSW’s complete domination that had seen them win TWENTY consecutive series, the Origin match was eventually given the go ahead. It was the last roll of the dice to keep the New South Wales v Queensland fixture alive, and few people south of the border thought it stood a chance, including Fulton who, incredibly, deemed it “the non-event of the century”.
Fortunately, 33,210 rabidly passionate Queenslanders thought otherwise and packed out Lang Park. Lewis, to this day, swears that he hasn’t heard a noise to rival that of the crowd as Beetson was announced to the crowd. After years of pulling on a Blues’ jersey just because he played his football in Sydney, the great man had finally come home, right at the end of his career. And, in an moment that saw the birth of the wonderful phrase ‘mate against mate, state against state’, he clobbered his Parramatta mate, and equally iconic legend, Mick Cronin. It was almost like hitting Mother Theresa; no-one would hit the gentlemanly Cronin, but with State pride on the line, Beetson got him with a high shot as he stood vulnerable and upright in a tackle. If Beetson could swing an arm at Cronin, anything could happen, and with proof that Origin meant the world to at least half of the players on display, Queensland v New South Wales finally had some meaning again. The home side won 20-10 although the first-ever Origin try went to the Blues’ Greg Brentnall.
1981 saw the continuation of the Interstate series, but again NSW triumphed with the minimum of fuss, so game three, again, was played under Origin rules and the Maroons overturned a 15-0 deficit, thanks partly to a sensational Eric Grothe try, to win 22-15. Chris Close, as he was in year one, was named man of the match. Finally, Origin had legs and common sense prevailed – Interstate football was dead and 1982 would see the first best-of-three series played under Origin rules.
Again, barely anyone gave the Maroons a chance in 1982 – surely they were a fluke? But with Lewis and a certain Mal Meninga developing at a rate of knots, and with Beetson coaching, the Maroons overturned a 0-1 deficit to win the first proper Origin series with a horrendous in-goal mix-up from Blues pair Phil Sigsworth and Philip Duke gifting Lewis a crucial try.
The following year provided one of Origin’s most controversial moments when the fiery Blues forward Les Boyd smashed the cheekbone of the hapless Darryl Brohman with a vicious elbow attack. Incredibly he wasn’t sent off, but after Brohman’s club, Penrith, complained, Boyd was suspended for 12 months. In his defence Boyd said: “It’s not that I wanted to do it. [Referee] Barry Gomersall was giving us a friggin’ hard time and the penalties were going against us … it was just one of those spur-of-the-moment things.” Back on the field, Lewis tore New South Wales to pieces with a masterclass in the deciding game which saw his side 33-0 up at one stage.
In 1984, the Blues’ agony continued as their opponents won the first two games by margins of 17 and 12 points. The clincher, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, produced possibly Origin’s most famous try as Lewis’s chipped kick rebounded off the crossbar into the grateful arms of an unlikely tryscorer Greg Dowling, who took the ball from around his ankles in the most dreadful of conditions. “It was a wet, muddy night and whoever scored next was going to win,” he said. “Wally put up a kick and I followed it through. I remember seeing ‘Jimmy’ [Garry] Jack getting ready to catch it and I was really going to give it to him. But it hit the bar, I stuck my hands out and caught it about an inch off the ground and scored. The main problem was Wally jumping up and down in a puddle next to my head and nearly drowning me!”
Finally, in 1985, New South Wales got their hands on the Origin shield as Steve Mortimer, their captain and halfback, sunk to his knees in celebration and kissed the famous SCG turf. He was chaired from the field with the chant of “Blues! Blues! Blues!” reverberating around the stadium. “That win was the proudest moment of my life and I wanted to enjoy it,” said the champion Canterbury player who won four Premierships with Canterbury.
They even went one better in 1986, whitewashing Queensland 3-0. The Blues, now with Peter Sterling at half partnering his clubmate Brett Kenny, won the series with scores of 22-16, 24-20 and 18-16. The great Sterling only played Origin 14 times but picked up four man-of-the-match awards. The tide was beginning to turn, and it couldn’t come too soon for the New South Wales.
The 1987 series was famous for the introduction to Origin of Allan Langer. The tiny halfback was playing for Ipswich Jets in the Brisbane Leagues and a number of Queensland players, most notably Lewis himself, objected to Langer’s selection. “[Coach] Wayne Bennett brought it up at a selection meeting and I said to him: ‘He struggled in defence at the weekend and he may be a target for the Blues.’ Bennett looked at me and just said ‘thanks’. Ten minutes later, they’d named the side and Langer was in. My opinion wasn’t worth two bob! In training we were going through our defensive patterns and Bennett said Alf would stand behind the line. Paul Vautin came in and said, ‘He’s playing for Queensland. No-one’s going to f***ing hide!’ He looked at Alf and said ‘You’re not going to hide are you?’ Alf was too scared to say anything but ‘no!'” Langer went on to enjoy a great series and picked up the official man-of-the-match award in the deciding game as his side triumphed 10-8 to get their hands back on the shield for the first time in three years. He would hold onto that number-seven jersey for years with no-one, not even The King, questioning his selection. As a footnote, a fourth game was played in 1987 in California as a promotional exercise and was won 30-18 by NSW, but it didn’t count towards the series score.
If you’re looking for truly great Origin moments then two came in the next two series and both involved Lewis. In 1988, with his state 1-0 up thanks to a great performance from the now-departed Peter Jackson, Lewis was controversially sin-binned for running in by referee Michael Stone. Quite simply, the crowd went ballistic, chucking hundreds of beer cans onto the field in protest. The game was held up as the cans were cleared away while the Blues players, most notably centre Mark McGaw, were terrified that the fans were going to charge onto the field. Sparkles, as he was nicknamed, tried to persuade captain Wayne Pearce to lead his players off the field, but his protests were ignored. When Lewis returned he helped his side to a 16-6 win, which they backed up in the decider at Sydney with a comprehensive 38-22 thrashing of the Blues, with cult hero prop Sam Backo winning consecutive man-of-the-match awards.
Lewis was remembered for the right reasons in 1989 as he scored a sensational try in the most demanding of circumstances to clinch yet another series victory. With game one in the bag, the Maroons travelled south where everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, losing Langer with a broken leg, Meninga with a fractured eye socket, Vautin with an elbow injury and Mick Hancock with a bruised shoulder, while Bob Lindner, incredibly, had to carry on with a fracture in his ankle. Leading his men out for the second half, Lewis took his charges past the casualties and urged them to finish the series off for them – an inspired piece of captaincy. With the match crucially poised, and the Blues fancying themselves to win on the basis of the Queensland’s problems, Trevor Gillmeister, aptly nicknamed ‘The Axe’, chopped down Bradley Clyde with a wonderful hit and the ball was seized by the Maroons’ stand-in halfback, Michael Hagan, who passed to Lewis. The rest is history. Lewis, barely inside his opponents’ half of the field, set off on a mazy, weaving run and ended up carrying defenders over the line for a wonderful individual try. Game, set and match. “We were shot to bits – it was probably one of Queensland’s greatest moments,” mused The Emperor of Lang Park afterwards.
1990 saw Origin move away from the two states as game two went to Melbourne. The Blues, who had already won the first match, sealed the series with a 12-6 win in Victoria courtesy of a great performance from Ricky Stuart. By this stage Jack Gibson, who in 2008 was named the finest coach in the history of Australian Rugby League, was in charge of New South Wales while Ben Elias picked up the man-of-the-series award.
1991, Lewis’s last series, remains one of the greatest State of Origin series with the margin in each game only two points. Game one ended in almost farcical circumstances as Michael O’Connor missed a late conversion to tie the game, but Meninga, inexplicably, booted his kick-off out on the full. NSW had a halfway-line penalty shot to level the scores but Greg Alexander’s attempt fell short. Amazingly in game two in Sydney, O’Connor was presented with another late goal attempt and sent a sensational, curling conversion over the posts from tight on the right touchline, as he converted Mark McGaw’s try to level the series. The game is also remembered for Mark Geyer’s fiery performance which culminated in an infamous spat with Lewis as the teams walked off for half-time. But a fortnight later, Queensland triumphed again to send Lewis out a winner. With them hanging on grimly late in the game, it was announced over the public-address system that it was to be Lewis’s final Origin prompting the crowd to rise to the occasion and cheer their team to victory.
With Lewis gone, a new State of Origin era dawned in 1992. The man with the greatest Origin coaching record took his place in the Blues hotseat and masterminded, for the first time, an age of New South Wales domination. It was Phil ‘Gus’ Gould, as unpopular in Queensland as he is in England, but, even as his fiercest critics would have to admit, he was a brilliant coach. He encouraged his players to replicate the Queensland-like spirit that had worked against the Blues for so many years. He kicked off his reign with a 14-6 win and after the Maroons had levelled the series in Brisbane with a nailbiting 5-4 win courtesy of a late Langer field goal, Gould masterminded a 16-4 triumph to seal the series.
One of Gould’s masterstrokes was to appoint Laurie Daley as his captain. Daley didn’t even captain his club side, Canberra Raiders, who were led by Meninga. “Laurie often told us how Mal showed him absolutely no mercy,” wrote Gould in the foreward to Daley’s autobiography. “In game two [of 1993] we led into the final ten minutes but the Queenslanders rallied to score and set up a grandstand finish. We were holding them down their end when a long pass to Mal Meninga sent the big man into the clear. From where I was sitting I could only see one man in pursuit. Coming across in cover was the Blues skipper Laurie Daley. The next few seconds seemed to take an eternity as I watched these two great men eyeball each other and come to terms with the situation. In years gone by Mal Meninga would have not hesitated in going for the corner … [but] … the great man slowed down and waited for support. His respect for the Blues captain had reached the point that he realised the Laurie would be too quick for him and too strong to fend. Mal’s pass was spoiled by Laurie, who secured possession for the Blues. It was the final play of the game and when the siren sounded, the Blues had scored a sensational series victory. When Laurie came back into the dressing room, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘You are the boss now. You got him’.”
But despite New South Wales’s three-year domination of Origin, 1994 produced a Queensland moment to rival anything Lewis had ever done – perhaps it even topped it. With Lewis coaching the Maroons, they trailled game one in Sydney by two points with seconds left and what happened next is firmly embedded in Australian sporting history. Langer found his great mate Kevin Walters, who passed to Willie Carne before the ball ended up with Steve Renouf, who raced upfield. Hancock, Darren Smith, Langer again and Meninga all handled in a sensational, sweeping move before the captain found centre Mark Coyne who stepped inside the challenges of Stuart and Brad Fittler to score. “That’s not a try, that’s a miracle,” shouted Ray Warren in the commentary box. Indeed it was. But Gould went to work on his stunned troops and led them to 14- and 15-point victories to clinch their third-straight series.
By the time the next series came along, the Australian game was tearing itself in two as Super League tried to wrest control of the sport from the ARL. Sadly – it seemed at the time – no Super League-aligned players could play in the 1995 Origin, but, incredibly, that short-sighted decision led to one of the most astonishing underdog victories in Australian sport. Queensland’s former loose forward Paul Vautin took over the coaching reins and, unable to select players from Brisbane Broncos, was forced to select unheralded players like Terry Cook, Craig Teevan and a young Ben Ikin. But, captained by Papua New Guinean Adrian Lam, they stunned the Blues to win game one 2-0, courtesy of a Wayne Bartrim penalty. With the Blues desperate to level the series, emotion got the better of everybody in the early stages of Origin II in Melbourne, as the most incredible series of brawls broke out all over the field. When the football restarted, the Maroons wrapped up the series with a 20-12 win with Brett Dallas scoring a late long-range try. For game three, their captain, Gillmeister, even discharged himself from hospital against medical advice, undid his drip and led his side to a third win. He didn’t last the full 80 but was chaired from the field a hero.
In 1996, the Super League players returned, but with a far stronger team on paper, the Maroons couldn’t repeat their success and went down to a 0-3 drubbing with Andrew Johns and Geoff Toovey leading the way, and Craig Greenhill becoming the first red-carded player in Origin history. They repeated the dose in 1997, in a dull series memorable only for a brawl which saw Johns sparked out by Queensland hooker Jamie Goddard. As in 1995, there were no Super League players but this time it hurt the series badly. Instead, Super League hosted a Tri-Series including New Zealand and the Blues beat the Maroons in a wonderful final decided in golden point by a Noel Goldthorpe field goal.
With League reunited again in 1998, the Maroons got their hands back on the shield with Langer scoring a magnificent and crucial try in the deciding game. Again, as in 1994, they won the opener with a length-of-the-field last-minute try, with Tonie Carroll this time the hero. Their success effectively counted double because, after a drawn series in 1999, Queensland held onto the shield as they were the holders and the Blues had failed to win it from them.
In 2000 Gorden Tallis was sent off for abusing referee Bill Harrigan who missed a clear knock-on as the Blues pegged them back to win the first game in Sydney. Andrew Johns, who often played hooker or sat on the bench in representative football back then, inspired the Blues to wrap up the series in game two before they massacred Queensland in game three 56-16 with the media questioning the whole viability of Origin. The Blues, they reckoned, would dominate for years.
How wrong they were! Wayne Bennett, saddened by his state’s demise, came back to the coaching role and, giving ten players their debuts, watched on as his side racked up a superb 34-16 win with Tallis in the form of his life. But the rampaging forward was ruled out for the rest of the series and NSW hit back in game two to win with similar ease; 26-8. Then Queensland dropped their bombshell – Langer would be returning from England to fill their number-seven jersey after Bennett saw some footage of Langer in great Super League form from Warrington. With Sydneysiders deriding the selection as desperate, Langer rolled back the years, laying on three tries and scoring one himself, as they ran out 40-18 winners. “It was the greatest day of my life,” he said later, while the Sydney Daily Telegraph’s front page boomed: “Bloody Alf! You flew 12,000 miles to break our hearts. Now go back to England!”
Three years on from the 1999 debacle that saw the Maroons lift the shield despite not having won the series, the ARL had still not changed the rules. And lightning struck again. A late Dane Carlaw try in game three of 2002, after a Langer pass, tied up the scores and Lote Tuqiri missed the goal. The Blues were furious and fortunately for the concept’s credibility, Golden Point has since been played in drawn matches.
With Gould back at the coaching helm, and with Johns in his rightful number-seven jersey, the Blues set off on another three-year winning streak. In 2003, they took out the first two games with relative ease, in a series made memorable by the cameras capturing Michael de Vere stood on the sidelines having a cut on his head treated with a staple gun. “I thought they were just going to tape it up and stop the bleeding and the next thing he [the trainer] had the staple gun!” he said.
Golden Point was first played in an Origin match in the first game in 2004 with Shaun Timmins kicking a field-goal to give the Blues a 9-8 win. In game two, the Maroons hit back with Billy Slater scoring one of the great Origin tries. He gathered a chip through and seeing Blues fullback Anthony Minichiello ahead of him, chipped over him, regathered and scored. Brett Kenny later described it as Origin’s finest four-pointer. But, as far as the series was concerned, it was in vain as the Blues won the decider 36-14 with Craig Fitzgibbon man of the match.
Another Golden Point classic materialised in 2005 with Matty Bowen scoring the deciding try to give Queensland a 24-20 win. But, inspired by Andrew Johns’s greatest individual performance, in the words of the man himself, the Blues hit back in game two and wrapped up the series with a 32-10 win in the decider. After 2005, there was barely anything between the two states: 205 tries each, 12 series wins each, but the Blues had won one extra game – 37 to 36. Incredible!
With the Blues seemingly dominating Origin, the biggest turning point in the 30-year history of the concept came in game three of 2006. One game all, they were inching the decider and were en route to their fourth-straight series, but in the dying embers of the decider, as the Blues came off their own line, Lockyer pounced on a loose dummy-half pass to win the game and the series for his state. It was a disaster for the Blues and they haven’t won a series since, with the Maroons triumphing 2-1 in each of the last three series thanks to a new generation of Origin heroes like Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith, Thurston, Justin Hodges, Israel Folau and, of course, those warhorse props Petero Civoniceva and Steve Price.
After 30 years State of Origin is still absolutely huge in Australia and long may that continue. The non-event of the century? Fulton could not have been more wrong!
Origin’s most famous moments:
10. Shaun Timmins creates history by kicking Origin’s first Golden Point score to win a classic opener in 2004 by 9-8.
9. Queensland fans go bananas when Wally Lewis is sin-binned for five minutes. Beer cans rain down on the pitch and the games is halted temporarily.
8. Darren Lockyer scores a lucky but massively important try to win the shield for Queensland in 2006 – and they still haven’t let it out of their grasp.
7. Michael O’Connor produces the finest kick in Origin history as he goals from the sideline on the hooter to win game two for NSW in 1991.
6. Greg Dowling scores an amazing try after Lewis’s kick rebounds off the crossbar.
5. Alfie Langer returns from Super League to lead Queensland to an unlikely series victory in 2001. They even went a try down inside a minute.
4. The mother of all fights in 1995 after hookers Jim Sedaris and Wayne Bartrim swap punches and all hell breaks loose for over FOUR minutes.
3. NSW captain Steve Mortimer sinks to the turf in jubilation as the Blues win the shield at their sixth attempt.
2. Arthur Beetson catches his mate Mick Cronin high in 1980 and Origin is born – as is the phrase “Mate against Mate, State against State”.
1. The King clinches the 1989 series with a wonderful individual try despite four of his teammates being off the field injured.
30 years of State of Origin Stats:
Games: Qld 44-41 NSW
Series: Qld 16-12 NSW
Points: Qld 1399-1372
Tries: Qld 244-235 NSW
Man of the Match awards:
8: Wally Lewis (Qld)
4: Peter Sterling (NSW)
4: Allan Langer (Qld
4: Andrew Johns (NSW)
3: Benny Elias (NSW
3: Ricky Stuart (NSW)
10. Ron McAuliffe. Without the efforts of the QRL boss, Origin would have never happened.
9. Steve Mortimer. The Blues captain was instrumental in them finally winning a series in 1985.
8. Allan Langer. Returned home in glorious fashion in 2001 to lead Queensland home.
7. Benny Elias. Almost as hated in Queensland as Lewis was in NSW. Winner of three man-of-the-match awards.
6. Mal Meninga. Legendary Queensland player who has now coached them to four-straight series wins.
5. Laurie Daley. Captain of NSW as they dominated Origin in the post-Lewis era.
4. Arthur Beetson. Started Origin with a bang in 1980 when few thought it would work, and won five shields as coach.
3. Brett Kenny. His face adorns the shield with Wally Lewis’s, who he got the better of in eight of their 12 five-eighth duels.
2. Phil Gould. The greatest Origin coach of them all. Six series wins, a draw and just one loss.
1. Wally Lewis. Who else?
The following was published in Thirteen in 2005:
2000: Game 1 Stadium Australia
NEW SOUTH WALES 20
Still smarting from the fact Queensland had lifted the trophy in 1999 despite the series being drawn, New South Wales made spectacular amends in 2000 by registering a whitewash leaving many people wondering whether State of Origin could again be competitive. Indeed their wins in games two and three were comprehensive but it shouldn’t be forgotten just how close game one was. It was a classic.
Superbly marshalled by two try scorer Adrian Lam, the Maroons led by four points with a little over ten minutes remaining and had just seen Tonie Carroll held up over the line. The Blues were still in the game but they were still in their own quarter. Scott Hill intercepted and gained possession for his side but David Furner knocked on taking his offload. The ball came free to Terry hill who also knocked on.
Incredibly Bill Harrigan missed both errors and, almost predictably, the Blues broke away and scored. The cameras cut back from the action replays of the try to show Harrigan sending Tallis off. More drama. The viewer could only conclude that Tallis had abused the official and been sent off.
With their inspiration sent off, the Maroons conceded another try to David Peachey and went on to collapse to a 3-0 series defeat.
1986: Game 1 Lang Park
NEW SOUTH WALES 22
New South Wales had finally won a series the year before and a full house, parachutists and two new coaches (Ron Willey and Wayne Bennett) were there to mark the beginning of the 1986 contest at Lang Park.
Those who remember the game remember it for a fabulous second half. Garry Jack, Chris Mortimer and Gene Miles had scored tries for a 12-10 half time lead to the Blues but Greg Dowling changed that early in the second half, scoring from a Wally Lewis bomb. Queensland had a four point lead but the Blues weren’t finished…
Royce Simmons then dummied and scored from acting half back and then an inexplicable knock on under no pressure at all from Blues defenders by Dale Shearer presented the Blues with the chance to seal the game and Andrew Farrar did just that, completing a blindside scrum base move involving Peter Sterling and Wayne Pearce.
The Blues went on to complete the first State of Origin whitewash
1991: Game 1 Lang Park
NEW SOUTH WALES 4
“A sensational game,” concluded Ray Warren in the commentary box. Even without the dramatic finish it was typical State of Origin. Brutal defence saw a low scoring encounter as only a Meninga penalty and try had been registered.
With only a minute left Laurie Daley scored chasing his own grubber to the corner. This is where the fun began. Michael O’Connor had a kick from the sideline to snatch a draw but he missed.
With the clock showing that only ten seconds were left Mal Meninga put the ball out on the full from the kick-off. No one seemed to notice apart from the officials. Warren thought it was all over and the Queensland bench, led by jubilant coach Graham Lowe, came onto the pitch. They were soon ushered off by the touch judge. Harrigan was still standing in the middle of the pitch indicating a penalty on halfway to the Blues.
Greg Alexander stepped up but the ball fell harmlessly short. Lewis was tackled and the Maroons held on.
1995: Game 1 SFS
NEW SOUTH WALES 0
The unlikeliest win ever?
Adrian Lam has spoken about how their fans were returning their tickets for the third game after hearing that Super League players were to be excluded from the ARL run series. With game one in Sydney and game two in Melbourne they feared the third game would be a dead rubber.
They were right! They went into the third game 2-0 up in a series best remembered for an opening game that saw the scorers only troubled by one penalty goal and a mammoth fight in game two.
It was Wayne Bartrim who kicked the goal in Sydney and his form at dummy half saw him selected for Australia in the series against New Zealand that year. The goal came in the first half and it was Terry Hill who came the closest to denying him his moment. Firstly he had a try brought back for a forward pass and then he was held up over the line by an incredible Matt Sing tackle. Sing’s feat was magnified by the fact he had early halted an Andrew Johns break.
With less than two minutes remaining, Rod Wishart was gang tackled into touch by four Queenslanders in a moment that summed up the team spirit upon which their series win was built.
1998: Game 1 SFS
NEW SOUTH WALES 23
Deja-vu for the Blues as they lose another opener in the last minute on their own turf. “What a game of rugby league!” Ray Warren exclaimed as Darren Lockyer kicked the conversion to Tonie Carroll’s winning try which had come with only 40 seconds remaining.
Three Queensland tries came from Allan Langer grubbers. Firstly for Kevin Walters to open the scoring, then for Steve Price to score the first points in the second half and then for himself as Laurie Daley fumbled the kick on his own line. For the Blues, Rod Wishart, Tim Brasher and Daley had scored first half tries but crucially none were converted.
Brad Fittler opened up a one point lead after taking a Rodney Howe pass in the second half but the Blues were left to rue another missed kick as Steve Menzies scored on the play following a 60 metre Wishart break. The lead was five points but with the conversion it would have been seven and game over.
In the last set of the game, Kevin Walters kicked early in the tackle count from his own line. Ben Ikin was first there and took play into the Blues’ half. Two plays later Langer found Jason Smith from dummy half who in turn passed to his brother Darren. Kevin Walters was on hand to slip a short ball to Tonie Carroll who scored next to the posts. Chris Close, as ever, was on the bench to celebrate and the Maroons were one up in a series they would eventually win 2-1.
2003: Game 1 Lang Park
NEW SOUTH WALES 25
If you go by the final score it may not seem like one of the great Origins but the truth is different. According to Chris Cox the reporter for the popular website www.rleague.com “there would be few amongst the capacity crowd of 52,420 people who went home disappointed. It was a game that didn’t live up to expectations – it blew them out of the water. It was arguably the best State of Origin exhibition in its 23-year history, and the only thing wrong with it for the fans was the final scoreline.”
Queensland, having given everything, were eventually undone by the brilliance of Andrew Johns and their own exhaustion. According to Cox again, “Johns was involved in all of the Blues’ 25 points – throwing the pass for each of Minichiello’s two tries in the first half, putting Craig Wing through a gap to score the game breaker after 65 minutes, slotting a field goal to kill any hopes of a Queensland fightback, and then crossing himself in the dying minutes. Add to that his magnificent goalkicking, landing all four attempts, and you’ve got a near perfect all round performance.”
The Maroons’ points were scored by their big names Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis but despite having contributed to as good an opening hour of rugby league as you are likely to see they could not maintain their efforts for the full game.
New South Wales wrapped up the series with an emphatic 27-4 win in Sydney but Queensland restored some pride in game three with a 36-6 win.
1989: Game 2 SFS
NEW SOUTH WALES 12
“We were shot to bits,” remembers Wally Lewis. After a convincing 36-6 win in Brisbane, the Maroons headed south to clinch the series. This game was a bit tougher for them to say the least.
Mick Hancock declared the Queenslanders’ intentions with a fantastic 45 metre run from his own try line. Later in the set, Lewis freed Bob Lindner and Allan Langer sent Hancock to the corner. With his trademark toe end style, Mal Meninga made it 6-0.
Laurie Daley was then first to react after Gary Belcher spilled a Greg Alexander bomb to level the scores and with Queenslanders struggling with injuries it seemed the Blues would capitalise. Enter two of the great Origin tries.
First Kerrod Walters went under the posts after a passing move that involved six Maroons. Lewis, Hagan twice, Belcher, Alan McIndoe and Dale Shearer combined to help the hooker create a six point lead for his team and then Michael Hagan gathered a spilled bomb, fed Lewis who arced across the pitch swatting men like flies and carrying Blues over the line for the try that sealed the series.
Chris Johns pulled one back to make the final score 16-12.
1987: Game 1 Lang Park
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Mark Coyne and Tonie Carroll are the men associated with last minute Origin tries but Mark McGaw twice broke Queenslanders’ hearts with late efforts; the other being in game two of 1991. With the score tied at 16-16 in game one of 1987 and the Lang Park scoreboard showing less than ninety seconds to go the Blues mounted one last attack. The great Parramatta halves Peter Sterling and Brett Kenny moved the ball to the blindside and an Andrew Ettingshausen pass to McGaw was knocked down by Tony Currie and kicked ahead by McGaw. The ball raced agonisingly towards the dead ball line but McGaw beat two others to the ball to touch it down with only inches to spare.
This was also the game when Allan Langer made his Origin debut. Called up from Ipswich Jets in the Queensland Cup, Langer went about his business in an effort to prove wrong the critics who said he was too small and his defence was poor. An offload near the line was ruled forward early on as Tony Currie looked like scoring. Then, to make matters worse for the Maroons, Michael O’Connor and Les Davidson posted tries and although Greg Dowling pulled one back, O’Connor opened up a seemingly impregnable 16-6 lead, taking a Brett Kenny pass.
Queensland looked like snatching Origin’s first ever draw after Wally Lewis put Currie in the corner but McGaw’s late winner proved decisive.
1988: Game 2 Lang Park
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Beer cans being hurled onto the pitch after Wally Lewis’s sin binning? Yes, that’s this game. You can read Lewis’s take on the situation elsewhere in this section where he tells of the “filthy liar” touch judge and how he was later accused of inciting a riot! It certainly makes entertaining reading.
A scuffle had broken out between Phil Daley and Greg Conescu and after much debate on what had actually happened both men were sin binned. So was Queensland captain Wally Lewis. Lang Park went beserk and hundreds of beer cans rained down onto the arena as the fans vented their fury. Trailing 6-4 at the time it seemed that the Blues might level the series at this point. Michael O’Connor had scored the game’s only try in a move involving Peter Sterling, Wayne Pearce and Benny Elias.
Sam Backo calmed the crowd by crashing over from dummy half and an Allan Langer try from a Greg Conescu inside ball settled both the game and the series. Even without the sin binnings the game ebbed and flowed as the Blues sought to keep the series alive but were ultimately denied.
1994: Game 1 Sydney Football Stadium
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Game one in 1994 provided the moment often remembered as the most famous in State of Origin history. Down by two points with just a minute on the clock the Queenslanders produced a flowing nine pass and 60 metre movement that saw Steve Renouf break down the left hand touchline. Eventually Allan Langer released Mark Coyne who stepped inside Brad Fittler and beat Benny Elias and Ricky Stuart to the line. One can only imagine the reaction north of the border but on the sideline coach Wally Lewis and Chris Close were ecstatic and the commentators were hysterical. “Oh Yes! What about that one Sterlo?!” asked Paul Vautin. “Unbelievable, ” replied Peter Sterling, “unbridled joy on the sideline and why not?” Ray Warren famously proclaimed, “that’s not a try that’s a miracle!”
The game had started at a frenetic pace. Laurie Daley broke free in the first set of six but his pass was intercepted. Soon after, Martin Bella was smashed in a huge tackle and in his dazed state he played the ball the wrong way. The scene had been set.
The Chief, Paul Harrogan opened the scoring when, after a quick play the ball from Daley, he picked up and drove three Maroons over the line. Julian O’Neill replied after Steve Renouf and Mal Meninga combined to put him in the corner. A Tim Brasher try was called back for offside but New South Wales still held a 6-4 lead at half time.
And so the score remained until thirteen minutes from time. A Brad Fittler grubber came up for Daley and he beat Willie Carne to the ball and set up a try for Brad Mackay. On the sideline, The King looked devastated. His side trailed 12-4 and time was running out.
The comeback began with less than five minutes left. Meninga and Coyne set up a Willie Carne try and four minutes later three-quarters of the Sydney Football Stadium sat in stunned silence as Coyne delivered one of Australia’s finest sporting moments.
O’Connor touchline goal, Game 2 1991
After the last minute drama of the first game from 1991 in Brisbane with Alexander’s missed penalty, New South Wales had to win to keep the series alive. A sublime offload from John Cartwright had seen Bradley Clyde tackled just short of the line. From dummy half, Elias found Stuart and the Canberra playmaker threw a long ball to the marauding Mark McGaw who crached over in the corner. From the sideline, Michael O’Connor kicked the Origin’s most famous goal to seal a 14-12 win.
Langer drop goal for 5-4 win, last minute, Game2 1992
How would Queensland fare after Lewis’s abdication? They lost the opening game of 1992 in Sydney in a game described by Peter Sterling as, “not a game for the purists.” The commentators’ description of game two was the reverse. “A great game of football…a heart stopper,” according to Ray Warren. With the score locked at 4-4 Kevin Walters played the ball to his brother Steve. Allan L:anger was at first recevier less than twenty metres out and with a calmly taken drop goal he won the game for his state 5-4, the lowest score in Origin history at that point.
Fight! Game 2 1995
With Queensland having recorded an unlikely win in Sydney in game one, both sides travelled to Melbourne. Adrian Lam describes the background to the game and why the almighty fight broke out elsewhere in this Origin section. In a second minute scrum, Jim Sedaris punches his opposite hooker from Queensland Wayne Bartrim. Within seconds, every player is involved in huge brawl. “They’ve come from everywhere like it was almost a rehearsal, ” said Ray Warren. According to Lam, who was fighting Andrew Johns it was. Manly club mates John Hopoate and Danny Moore exchanged at least a dozen punches whilst David Barnhill and Billy Moore spilled onto the sidelines, wrestling and punching. The game restarted on six minutes and ten seconds after four minutes of total mayhem.
World’s best on the bench! Game 2, 2000
Brett Kimmorley has generally been the first choice scrum half in Chris Anderson’s representative coaching career and in the second game of 2000 he kept his place ahead of the player widely regarded as the world’s best, Andrew Johns. Johns’s impact as a substitute at Lang Park was immense. A Gorden Tallis try had opened up a 10-6 lead for the Maroons but four Blue’s tries in the last quarter with Johns on the field led Peter Sterling to proclaim him the greatest scrum half in the history of the game. High praise indeed from the legendary Sterling; especially for a substitute!
Langer call-up, Game 3, 2001
Gene Miles stunned the rugby league world in June 2001 by announcing that Allan Langer was to be called back from Warrington to play his first game on Australian soil in over two years in the deciding State of Origin game. The Blues had strolled to an easy 26-8 win to level the series in Sydney and the decision was seen as a gamble borne out of sheer desperation by Wayne Bennett and the Queensland selectors. The Sydney media mocked the move wondering whether their very own Peter Sterling should be called up too.
In the end, the whole team lifted as touches of Langer magic, coupled with a man of the match performance from Darren Lockyer, saw the Maroons win 40-14.