Blues legend Paul Gallen is urging Queensland and New South Wales players to do more in promoting State of Origin and increasing the rivalry between the two teams, following the NRL‘s admission that over 12,000 tickets for the series opener at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night remained unsold.
During Game I of the 2020 series, 25,218 fans attended the Adelaide Oval. Gallen believes that it is the responsibility of the players to ensure ticket sales outside of these states also prove successful, writing in his column for Channel Nine that “it’s a shame players don’t take it upon themselves much these days to fuel the State of Origin rivalry and really promote games.”
Gallen played 24 times for the Blues and captained the team. He recalled being approached by former NRL boss Dave Smith ahead of the Game II of the 2015 series, when 90,000 fans attended the MCG to watch New South Wales defeat Queensland 26-18. However, Gallen admitted he would have talked up the rivalry regardless of the financial incentive offered by Smith, adding that “it was the same when I called Queenslanders ‘two-heads’ in 2014.”
Despite acknowledging that social media has made players an easy target for abuse and criticism, Gallen sympathises with the current crop of Origin stars, saying the days when Maroons and Blues fired verbal volleys at each other will be increasingly rare, and players are no longer encouraged to speak their minds. He argued that coaches seem to believe that speaking out about opposition teams or players will give them added motivation to perform well, but “if you’re a player and you need added motivation for a State of Origin or an NRL game, you’re in the wrong job.”
However, Gallen also warned that the players may have to ditch their reserved approach and make their voices heard in the future, or else fans may grow uninterested in the game. He believes that NRL players want to keep earning the big bucks, and that this will only happen if lots of people are watching the sport.
Gallen’s warnings come as the NRL still aims to attract over 45,000 fans to the State of Origin‘s first match in Adelaide, which has a capacity of 53,500 seats. An NRL spokesman told News Corp on Wednesday that “we are tracking towards a strong crowd number for State of Origin 1 in Adelaide with more than 45,000 fans expected. Ticket sales have picked up significantly since the teams were named on Monday [last week], and the expectation is that will continue.”
Comparing the NRL‘s attendance to the AFL’s, Adelaide and Port Adelaide have both drawn in an average of around 39,000 fans this season, while the AFL’s Gather Round last month drew a combined 220,000 people across three different venues in Adelaide. Meanwhile, the Wallabies Test match against South Africa attracted 36,366 spectators to the Adelaide Oval last year.