Under the Lang Park lights in 1980, a tradition was born as the Maroons streaked away to a 20-10 victory over New South Wales in the first ever State of Origin match.
The concept had been a long time coming, as wave after wave of talented Queenslanders crossed the border into New South Wales to ply their trade in the NSWRL competition. The likes of Kerry Boustead, Rod Reddy and rugby league Immortal Arthur Beetson, would reluctantly don the sky-blue jumper (under then-laws dictating that players would play for their state of residence rather than their origin). Every season, they would whack members of their home-state, in what was fast-becoming a lop-sided and predictable interstate series in favour of New South Wales.
Of the 67 matches played under the residency format between 1961 and 1981, 57 were won by NSW and four were drawn, while Queensland managed just six wins. The writing was on the wall.
Suggestions that an interstate series based on players’ ‘origin’ rather than residency had been touted as far back as 1964 through rugby league scribes. But it took proud Queenslander, Ron McAuliffe OBE – Queensland Senator (1971-81) and QRL President – to finally bring the idea to fruition through hard lobbying. In 1980, the interstate season proceeded with two matches under the old residency rule, with the final match to be played under the new State of Origin format.
New South Wales trounced Queensland in the first match, 35-3 at Lang Park, before going on to also win the second match 17-7 at Leichardt Oval with the likes of Kerry Boustead and Rod Reddy wearing blue.
But it was the final match at Lang Park on July 8, 1980 that the Queenslanders craved. To Arthur Beetson – so long forced to wear blue – went the honour of captaining Queensland in the match that attracted 33,210 fans to Lang Park.
For the Queenslanders, it was a night of enormous pride and meaning, and the Maroons were hell-bent on correcting the huge imbalance of the interstate games. In that side were young-guns Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga, as well as future Rabbitohs Head Coach John Lang. In the New South Wales side, Rabbitoh prop forward Gary Hambly flew the flag for the red and greens.
In a brutal encounter that would set the tone for all ensuing Origin games, Kerry Boustead – back in the Maroon jumper after playing for the Blues under the residency rule – relished the chance to play for his home-state by scoring a try off the back of a well-timed Chris Close pass. Close would ultimately be named man of the match after a brilliant try straight up the middle of the field.
Few believed that players would go in all guns blazing against their club teammates, but the fiery start soon quashed the view, with legend suggesting that Artie Beetson whacked fellow Parramatta teammate Mick Cronin during the match – a notion that big Artie laughingly denied in the documentary That’s Rugby League.
“Legend has it that I did actually hit my own mate – Mick Cronin,” said Beetson.
“And that’s not the case Mrs Cronin,” he added with a laugh. But whether Beetson did hit the Crow or not, the precedent had been set – it was mate against mate.
Tries to Tommy Raudonikis and Greg Brentnall for the Blues, coupled with two Cronin goals weren’t enough to damage the Maroons as Mal Meninga kicked seven of his own to snare victory for Queensland.
For long suffering Queenslanders, the win signalled the beginning of a new dawn, but for rugby league fans everywhere, it was the beginning of what is now considered the game’s biggest stage, built on the brutal nature of that first match.
Tonight, Queensland and New South Wales will play for the 100th time under the Origin format. It’s now New South Wales that find themselves in a tight spot, on the end of eight straight Series losses. Add the retirement of Beetson’s number 11 jumper – Rabbitoh Chris McQueen will wear number 18 in its place – for the game, and there’s plenty to play for on both sides.
The next chapter in Origin history is about to be written, and three Rabbitohs in the form of Greg Inglis, Chris McQueen and Ben Te’o will have the honour of playing.
To read the full State of Origin preview, please click here.
To watch the first instalment of Kingy vs QLD, please click here.