5 Greatest State of Origin Game 1s
Game 1 in State of Origin is one of the most anticipated days in the rugby league year. Origin’s opening game sets the series tone and can make or break campaigns overnight. Let’s have a look at the top five Origin Game 1 moments in the series’ 39-year history – let us know what you agree and disagree with.
5 - 1980
In a sentence - One of the biggest turning points in rugby league history.
Previously NSW-Queensland matches were held under rules of club proximity – if you played in the NSWRL, you were only eligible for NSW. And given the NSWRL’s status as Australia’s premier footy competition, this meant lopsided NSW domination. Case in point – Queensland’s last interstate series win was 1959.
There had been years of rumours of shifting selection eligibility from club proximity to birthplace, but it took until the final game of the 1980 series for the “State of Origin” concept to be trialled.
The first two games of the interstate series went as expected – NSW winning 35-3 and 17-7. Game three was agreed to be held under Origin rules – hence becoming game 1 of the Origin concept.
There were plenty of critics – Bob Fulton called such a concept “the non-event of the century.” But Lang Park was sold out, the heavy underdogs Queensland created an identity which last today and the immortal Artie Beetson used Parra teammate Mick Cronin as a punching bag to show this State of Origin idea may just have some legs to it.
Beetson by this stage was in and out of Parramatta’s side – the veteran’s career was winding down but the proud Queenslander was named his state’s inaugural Origin captain and his fight with Cronin early on set the tempo for not just the night but an entire state in their upset win. Artie may have played only one Origin for Queensland but he’s arguably their most important Maroon. This game defined rugby league and gave the sport a spectacle which became bigger than either domestic or international tiers.
In a sentence – who needs The Bunker?
1987’s opener was plagued with selection controversy for Queensland. Their incumbent halfback Mark Murray retired through injury leaving the door open for Roosters half Laurie Spina. Maroons coach Wayne Bennett had other ideas though – he wanted a 68kg halfback from Ipswich in, and Bennett eventually got his wish – Allan Langer would make his Origin debut.
Lang Park was raucous in a back-and-forth game and with scores locked at 16-all both sides went into field goal mentality. But when a desperate right-edge attack from NSW broke open the Queensland line with Blues debutante Andrew Ettingshausen combining with Mark McGaw for a final attack. When McGaw’s pass got deflected from Queensland it then got toed into the in-goal and in a crazy scramble filled with interference, McGaw somehow swooped in to ground the ball centimetres before the dead-ball line. Given this is 1987, referee Mick Stone had to make an instant call and despite the Lang Park natives and Queensland players’ protests, he gave the try and NSW victory. Replays showed the call was correct.
3 – 1998
In a sentence – Never count Queensland out
This series was one of the most anticipated in Origin history with the Super League war over and both states having full strength player selection pools. Notably, for Queensland, this meant Darren Lockyer would make his Origin debut and become the first of many showdowns between the greatest Queenslander of his generation against the greatest New South Welshman of his generation in Andrew Johns.
New South Wales were the dominant side this match but never quite able to stretch their lead into a match-winning one. Johns had a shocker with the boot (1/5 in goalkicking) and it meant Steve Menzies’ late try only gave them a 23-18 lead with two minutes left. Queensland had to attack and a wonky Kevin Walters kick bounced perfectly for Ben Ikin to suddenly give the Maroons field position for their final attacking raid. NSW were stretched defensively and Tonie Carroll provided the angled run to smash through for the try to allow Lockyer to convert and give Queensland the 24-23 win. Despite NSW scoring five tries to four, Queensland’s grit saw them never out of the game and meant Lockyer had his first legendary Origin moment.
In a sentence – The biggest upset of all Origin history
The Super League war was in full effect for 1995 – any players signed with the rebel league were not selected for Origin and while this meant New South Wales lost a handful of key players, they still had a deep ARL player pool to select from, including the Australian captain Brad Fittler. Queensland though were ravaged. 13 players from their last squad were instantly unavailable and with Brisbane and North Queensland players unavailable it meant rookie coach Paul Vautin and his staff had to do some scrambling to find 17 senior players to field in game one.
This included converting lock Wayne Bartrim into a hooker as there were no senior Queensland-eligible options available, getting special dispensation from the ARL – and NSWRL – to select Papua New Guinea star Adrian Lam as halfback and 18-year-old Gold Coast Seagull Ben Ikin on the bench, a player so unknown at the time when he joined Vautin in the team’s hotel on opening day of camp, he had to introduce himself to “Fatty” who thought the fresh-faced teen was a fan wanting his autograph. All of this seemed to spell the biggest Origin slaughter of all time – instead, it became Queensland’s greatest moment. Bartrim nailed a penalty goal in the 31st minute for the match’s opening points. Little did anyone know these would be the game’s only points too.
Queensland simply defended their slender lead like their lives depended on it. NSW goalkicker Rod Wishart missed his own shot at goal and the Blues became increasingly desperate but unable to break through the Maroons’ line. To put the upset into further context the Maroons were given 19.5 points start with bookmakers pre-game. This is also the match where Billy Moore became immortalised north of the border – inadvertently creating an all-time Origin moment in the tunnel at half-time.
1 – 1994
In a sentence – “COYNE! COYNE!”
The greatest series in Origin history happens to feature the greatest game 1 plus greatest try. Two sides packed with superstars could barely be separated with NSW grimly holding onto a 12-10 lead at home inside the final two minutes. It was a superb contest which a neutral would not have wanted to end – the quality was unmatched even with fatigue setting in. All hope looked lost for Queensland as they were sixty metres away with tackles running out. They started a shift to the left in desperation…then this moment happened.