After 25 years of Origin football, with the number of wins
recorded by Queensland and NSW almost equal, some vexing questions arise. Who is
the better state? Which is the superior era? The 1980s, the 1990s or today?
Could the Blues who are so desperate to level the 2005 series at
Telstra Stadium tonight mix it with the 1985 team led by Steve Mortimer? Could
the Maroons compete with Wally Lewis's grat Queensland teams?
Today's players, with just three per cent body fat, are quick
athletes. Their skin is stretched so tight that if you plucked them with your
finger, they'd sound like a harp. They are multi-skilled and versatile, whereas
the men who dug the well back in 1980 were specialists on the field and
labourers, policemen and shoe salesmen off it.
If we choose a composite team for each state, selecting the best
over the quarter-century, it favours the present players. After all, their
skills are only weeks old to our recall and, in any case, haven't we as a race
improved in most areas? If engineers, doctors and pilots are better, why not
If we ask ourselves "could Lewis compete with Darren Lockyer or
Braith Anasta?", the answer is no. Why not? Because Wally is 45 years of age.
But if we allowed our fevered imagination to transport Wally to the present,
could he handle it? Of course. Although he sucked on a cigarette before a game
and often stood in cover in defence, today there is interchange.
Imagine the roar at Suncorp Stadium, with the Maroons and Blues
level and 20 minutes left and Wally waddling back out there. Brisbane would roar
and belch and fart all at once, sucking so much air out of the place the NSW
players couldn't breathe.
What if we take NSW's two props back to 1980? Jason Ryles can
kick tactically, whereas coaches of yesteryear threatened to amputate the legs
of forwards who booted the ball. Sure, but could Ryles, educated in an era when
nine cameras catch all the illicit action, exist in the 1980 scrum, when players
actually loved having blood on their faces?
When the NSW captain in 1980, Tommy Raudonikis, was hit with a
full can of beer on the head at Lang Park, blood trickled down into his mouth.
"I licked it and said, 'How good is this?'," Tommy recalls.
If we compare composite teams and ask who would win, we must ask
"under which rules?". A NSW team with versatile players like Laurie Daley,
Andrew Ettingshausen and Brett Kenny in the backs and explosive ones such as Les
Boyd in the forwards favours the present.
A Queensland team with giant centres such as Mal Meninga and
Gene Miles and grunt forwards like Martin Bella is better suited to the old
rules. Maybe that's a reflection of the states. NSW has always been more modern
and Queensland more resourceful.
Composite teams based on Origin performances ignore club and
international form. Two of my favourite players of the past 25 years - NSW's
Brad Fittler and Queensland's Steve Renouf - didn't make the teams. Fittler
admits he never played his best football in Origin, and "the Pearl" saved his
best for grand finals.
The only way to properly assess the states is to isolate the top
three players from each. Queensland's come readily: Lewis, Allan Langer and
Meninga. They played more games than any other Maroons and dominated their eras.
NSW's top three? Well, Fittler played more Origin games than any
other Blue but would have made my team from the bench. "ET", who played the
next-highest number of games, is in mine but others wouldn't agree.
NSW used more players over the quarter-century and it shows.
Queensland's heroes made Origin their own.
Fullback Andrew Ettingshausen Versatile player who was
the prototype of the modern back, "ET" was chosen for the Blues in three
positions - fullback, centre and wing - and played 27 games.
Wing Eric Grothe The personification of power, "Guru" was
capable of running from his own in-goal to score a try.
Centre Laurie Daley Another utility back who set up his
supports with gift passes and who cover-defended brilliantly.
Centre Chris Johns Born in Queensland, he played for the
Broncos but represented NSW nine times and the Maroons respected him every time
he touched the ball.
Wing Michael O'Connor "Snoz" moved like a sail of silk
billowing in the breeze. Who can forget his touchline conversion from his
non-preferred side on full-time to win game two in 1991?
Five-eighth Brett Kenny The only player of the Wally
Lewis era who could match wits with the great Maroons pivot. He could slip like
liquid through defenders.
Halfback Steve Mortimer The emotional "Turvey" was made
for Origin football, with its short duration and high intensity. Captained the
Blues to their first series win.
Lock Bradley Clyde The model of the modern-day
back-rower, he had a huge work-rate.
Second-rower Les Boyd Intimidated opposition players more
than any player in the quarter-century of Origin football. He is reviled by many
for breaking Darryl Brohman's jaw at Lang Park but NSW selectors, aware that
last-minute withdrawals had weakened their pack, encouraged Boyd to cause
mayhem. All arse and elbows, he was as unstoppable as measles.
Second-rower Ben Kennedy Like Boyd, he is an explosive
player who can make ground where others fear to tread.
Prop Steve Roach His passionate approach was a perfect
complement to Mortimer's leadership, with his fierce eyes burning like
headlights. "Blocker" played in the 1986 "Blue-wash".
Hooker Ben Elias The Balmain hooker played in seven
series for five wins.
Prop Glenn Lazarus "Lazo" believed he was indispensable
for the Blues and convinced his coach as well, with Phil Gould leaving him on
the field for 80 minutes in game one of 1996.
Reserves Craig Young, Wayne Pearce, Andrew Johns, Brad
Fullback Darren Lockyer He plays as if he has a clock in
his head, executing everything with precision timing.
Wing Kerry Boustead His sports-car acceleration led the
Maroons to their early victories, helping to elevate the series to its full
Centre Mal Meninga So dominant he resembled King Kong
against the bi-planes.
Centre Gene Miles Another powerful centre, he was a
wrecking ball built from fast-twitch muscle fibre.
Wing Matt Sing A decade of Origin representation is
testimony enough to the durability and ability of this twinkle-quick player.
Five-eighth Wally Lewis The architect of the long, spiral
pass, "the King" was also a great tactical kicker and an effective run-stopper,
even if he rested in cover. The greatest of all Origin leaders.
Halfback Allan Langer The smallest Origin player holds
the record for the most Origin appearances (34), testimony to his survival
skills in the code's most brutal arena.
Lock Bob Lindner A classic back-rower, he was tougher
than portrayed, completing a number of tackles in the 1989 game that
Queenslanders still say was their finest, with a broken leg.
Second-rower Gorden Tallis He played with the impact of a
broken bottle of XXXX over the head.
Second-rower Bryan Niebling Didn't make Queensland's top
25 players but all of the teammates of "the Horse" would have chosen him.
Prop Martin Bella The ultimate go-forward man, he played
in eight series.
Hooker Steve Walters He evokes memories of the old-style
hooker who won scrums and games with skilful, tough play.
Prop Shane Webcke An automatic selection in any team of
Reserves Dale Shearer, Greg Dowling, Gary Larsen, Kevin