It’s that time of the year that excites, infuriates and ultimately disappoints the NRL punter – Origin time! When the entire sport dedicates itself to one game, hypes the athletes involved into Roman gods, creates some kind of aura that can only be achieved by truly believing in the place where you may-or-may-not-have played your first game of football as a spiritual haven that grants superhuman powers of speed and strength, and leaves footy fans a bit flat, as only half the games in the round are played, and only half the players that you want to see are playing.
Parramatta tried to bring in a bit of normality to the week by fucking up and exploiting the salary cap conditions. As to where the extra money was going is anyone’s guess – it’s a pretty rough situation where a team is paying players through the arse and still can’t quite manage to (a) attract any decent players, or (b) win.
It does answer one question that also raised its dirty little head this week, regarding Cronulla “star” (if you’re half decent at Cronulla you automatically become a star) Michael Gordon, who was rumoured to be reneging on his contact and leaving the Shire to play for Parra. I guess now that the Eels are looking at a hefty fine and a loss of points for the 2016 season, we will be seeing ol’ ‘Flash’ Gordon at the Sharkies for 2016 as well.
It’s a sad state of affairs when a team loses points for the fuck-ups of their administration. The NRL will be taking the Eels’ wooden spoons from the previous few seasons as punishment. In a show of support, Cronulla actually offered to donate their 2014 spoon to the embattled Eels.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Parramatta Eels
It has been a shit week for the Eels – so shit, in fact, that they have recalled Chris Sandow to the starting team. The Bunnies are only missing one player for Origin, and I don’t think they’ll have a lot of trouble in kicking Parra while they’re down. It’s a national pastime.
Wests Tigers vs Nth Queensland Cowboys
I would have stuck with the Cowbs to scrape through this one until the Queensland Origin team called up Mick Morgan. With the North Qlders fielding a team mainly consisting of the players’ mates and drunk uncles, I am tipping the Tiggers for an “upset.”
Canberra Raiders vs Canterbury Bulldogs
WOOO RAIDERS WOO. The Green Machine would have won this game in any case, but beating an understrength, out-of-form and struggling Bulldogs outfit will just be even more fun. Could crack the ton by half-time, to be honest.
Newcastle Knights vs Brisbane Broncos
In a game that’s bound to piss off a lot of Broncos supporters, the Knights should win this one while the majority of Brissy are off drinking beer with Mal Meninga.
NSW vs QLD
The best part about this year's State of Origin is that Gallen, Bird and Watmough aren’t playing – Gallen through injury, Bird through arrest and Watmough for being shit – because it might mean that the ball gets passed to more than three players all game. In last year’s series, Michael Jennings and Josh Dugan played cards for the entire second game and no-one noticed. Duges ended up sitting on three aces as the final siren went. Paul Gallen’s injury has meant that his usual $650,000-for-three-games-for-NSW-per-year contract with the Sharks is kind of null and void. So I guess that changes it to a $650,000-a-year-not-to-play-at-all. I could get behind that.
There are some weird selections for NSW which I don’t understand. But that might be because I’m not a supercoach like Loz or Mal. I don’t have the experience of the NSW or QLD coaches, who, despite not being trusted to coach a club team, are given the unenviable job of guiding their teams to play for “the most important series in history.”
But that’s not really an issue for Origin, as players aren’t really picked on form, so why would coaches need to show any nous to get a win and earn some coin? Three weeks ago, Alex Johnston played for Australia. In this game, he can’t even play for NSW. Brett Morris is there because people think he’s his brother. Michael Jennings was picked because… he may have done something pretty remarkable in a game against the Gold Coast in 2010, and has been threatening to almost do it again this year.
NSW coach Laurie Daley has, for some reason, picked Will Hopoate, who he admits is out of form, but was part of the winning team last year, so earns another game. He also dropped Josh Reynolds who was there last year in all 3 games but has dropped him because his shit form is a problem this year. I don’t have a problem with that, by the way, I think Reynolds is a fuckbag and shouldn’t even be picked to bring oranges to half time for the under 10s. Hodkinson shouldn’t be there either. NSW also dropped Luke Lewis, who is in form and won last year, but is too old, for the same-age Ryan Hoffman. There’s no logic to the NSW team – Hopoate is in terrible form. If you don’t pick Johnston, what about Jarryd Croker or James McManus or Pat Richards. At least then you’d have the option of knocking over 58-metre field goals whenever you wanted, instead of, you know, dropping the ball every set.
One player who has been picked on form is Mitchell Pearce, but the inclusion of Robbie Farah (as fucking captain? What the fucking fuck?) pretty much negates his impact, as Farah usually likes to take on the role of hooker and halfback at the same time, essentially pushing the designated half into the world’s smallest tackling bag for QLD.
For Queensland, Darius Boyd makes his long-awaited comeback (I’m sure someone was looking forward to it, anyway), after 15 months off and two games back, proving that form and hard work really is the key to success, not how many handjobs you offer Wayne Bennett. But it is the usual Queensland team that has been a bit dominant over the last few years (well, except for last year), but I don't think their best years are behind them. It's not time to change the entirety of the line-up, but it might be a good chance to get a few inexperienced players into the mix, or at least shake some people up - put Inglis on notice that his form is shit and unless he performs in the first game, he can go fuck himself for the second. Put up the white screen with Slater. Stop letting Justin Hodges into the dressing room. Things like that.
Queensland are doing the usual Queensland thing by leaking stories to the press – Inglis has a broken arm, Thurston has scurvy, Corey Parker has broken his hip in a shuffleboard incident. Every year, the day of the first Origin game, the wonders of the Queensland health system come through and the Maroons get raised from the dead. It’s a little-known secret that the Queensland Rugby League medical staff have actually found cures for cancer and AIDS, but until Darius Boyd comes down with symptoms, they’re keeping it hush-hush. In news that hasn’t shocked anyone, Billy Slater is rumoured to be carrying a shoulder injury. This rumour spread from the fact that he’s been out for the past few weeks with a shoulder injury and has been seen favouring his shoulder since making his comeback. He has reportedly not done any training in the QLD Origin camp due to his sore shoulder, and has instead been involved with intense physiotherapy on his injured shoulder. This points to the simple conclusion: he is in love with his physio.
This game will probably go down to the wire, but I don’t think it will reach any great heights.
But hey, that’s just part of the mythos of Origin. What it can lack in skill, it somehow makes up for in emotion and passion. Or something.