Melbourne’s recent hosting of the NRL’s State of Origin has reignited calls for the AFL to bring back state of origin into the football calendar. AFL fixtures have not featured state of origin clashes since 1999 – in that famous affair where the great Ted Whitten said his final farewell to the footballing fraternity. With these memories still intact, some football romantics are currently flirting with the idea of bringing the series back.
Certainly there is enormous appeal in witnessing the champions of the game playing alongside and against one another. The possibility of witnessing Dangerfield, Selwood and Pendlebury linking up in the Victorian midfield is a tantalising prospect that has the mouths of most football supporters watering. However in reality, I sense that football fans do not care enough about state of origin for its return to be warranted. As a Victorian, my passion for the Big V would not be even remotely comparable to my passion for the mighty Richmond Football Club.
Should a state of origin series ever be reintroduced, I envisage myself barracking more for individual Tigers – irrespective of which state they were representing – rather than giving my uncompromised support to Victoria. I sense this would be a similar experience for most football fans – particularly those that never witnessed state of origin fixtures throughout the decades of the latter half of the twentieth century. The failed International Rules Series between Australia and Ireland is an illustration of how fans do not really care for representative football.
On a logistical front, it’s difficult to imagine how a state of origin series could fit within a crowded AFL calendar. If the series occurred prior to or midway through the AFL premiership season, club supporters would be praying the entire time that none of their star players sustain injuries. Unlike what happens in the NRL, AFL clubs and their supporters would not accept losing their players throughout the season due to state of origin commitments.
For NRL supporters, it appears that the pinnacle of their passion rests at the state of origin level. This passion perhaps largely explains why the NRL State of Origin is such an enormous success with over 90,000 fans recently packing out the MCG. But for AFL followers, nothing matches the support we share for our clubs throughout the home and away season as they compete for that elusive premiership cup. Additionally, unlike in rugby league, AFL players originate from all states and territories of Australia, meaning that any potential format of a state of origin series suddenly becomes far more complex than the two-state competition of the NRL.
Ultimately for a state of origin series to succeed, supporters must reach for their state scarves with at similar enthusiasm to the way they don their club colours each weekend. For most club fans, this just would not be possible. In essence, the overall passion supporters have for the game at club level renders everything else unnecessary.