In the lead up to State of Origin matches, coaches traditionally invite former champions and celebrities who have made good from their home state to join the team camp. This practice aims to inspire and motivate the players with the presence of individuals who have achieved success in the same state.
There are two striking stories that illustrate the contrasting levels of commitment between the New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland teams. The Blues are often known for their false bravado, while the Maroons exhibit a deep-felt fealty towards their state.
Before the deciding Origin match in Brisbane last year, the NSW Blues were in camp in Kingscliff. Former NSW centre Chris Johns, who had a successful career with the Broncos after leaving St George, joined the team for dinner. Johns, who owns a car wash franchise in Brisbane with former Australian wicketkeeper Ian Healy, sensed that an ambush was being planned by the Queenslanders. He requested permission from Blues coach Brad Fittler to address the team, to which Fittler hesitantly agreed due to Johns’ reputation for speaking his mind.
Johns, a lover of schooners, delivered an important message to the players, saying, “I see you are having a good time, but I live in Brisbane and they are setting up a massive ambush. The crowd will be screaming for your blood, and the Queensland players will thrive on it.” NSW five-eighth Jarome Luai interrupted to ask if Johns believed they could win. Johns replied, “No, I think you can win, but I’m just warning you that they are setting up to shock you.”
Luai, showing his confidence, responded with, “We’ll beat them.” As the group left the function room, Luai directed a taunt towards Johns, saying, “Look at you in your fancy jacket.” In response, Johns said, “If you win, I’ll post it to you.” However, Johns would keep his jacket as Queensland emerged victorious, winning the decider with a score of 22-12.
On the other hand, the attitude of former Maroons player Dallas Johnson exemplifies the commitment and dedication shown by the Queensland team. Johnson, a lightweight tackler who played 12 Origin games for Queensland between 2006-2009, experienced food poisoning on the eve of an Origin match. The team had been invited to the home of Queensland-born and educated broadcaster Alan Jones, who generously catered for them.
Unfortunately, Johnson was the only one who fell ill after the power went out for a brief period. He suffered from vomiting and diarrhea throughout the night and considered withdrawing from the match. However, when Maroons coach Mal Meninga visited him on the day of the game, Johnson expressed his condition. Meninga, with his signature bushy eyebrows, reassured Johnson by saying, “You’ll be right, eh?” To which Johnson responded, “I’ll be right, Mal.”
Johnson cannot recall the exact year of this incident, but it was likely in 2007 when the Maroons won the series with a 10-6 victory. Johnson played 77 minutes and earned two Dally M points out of a possible three. He emphasizes the fear of letting down his teammates and the state as his primary motivation to push through his illness.
In a time where many athletes and teams seem disconnected from their roots, the Queensland players understand the significance of representing their state. Coach Billy Slater has further instilled this sense of attachment by incorporating the players’ home postcodes on their jerseys. He also takes them to Brisbane’s Caxton Street Hotel, still in their football gear, rather than attending a formal dinner with the Queensland Rugby League (QRL) board.
While many of the NSW players may also consider Penrith their home, the concept of “home” extends beyond geography. Home is a place filled with cherished memories, a sense of belonging, and a network of relationships. It is a source of comfort and inspiration that can fuel a player’s performance. The NSW players must recognize that when they step onto the field at Accor Stadium, they have a whole state supporting them, and they must reciprocate that passion.
Ultimately, the State of Origin is not just about the physical battle between teams from New South Wales and Queensland. It is a contest that embodies the pride, commitment, and loyalty to one’s state. As the 2021 edition of the tournament approaches, both teams will strive to honor their respective states and leave a lasting impact in the hearts of their supporters.