Every young rugby league fan dreams of playing State of Origin. Whether you’re a New South Welshman or a Queenslander, the dream is the same: to win in last-second, impossibly dramatic fashion and be the hero that’s borne home shoulder high. But for so many players, that dream falls short, and their biggest game becomes a mere punctuation mark in someone else’s story.
On Wednesday night, four men will make their Origin debut, three from New South Wales and one from Queensland. Odds say at least one of them will end up in the one-game club, a strange place to be. The one-game club is a badge of honour for some, but for others, it’s a curse that’s hard to escape.
Canberra five-eighth Terry Campese played his only Origin for New South Wales in the 2009 series opener at Docklands in Melbourne. Although he didn’t play long, he considers it one of the honors of his career. “It’s every boy’s dream to play Origin… As soon as Craig (Bellamy) rang me to let me know, I was chuffed,” he said. But it wasn’t what he anticipated. “We were out of town, somewhere in the country, I was expecting there were going to be quite a few beers on Wednesday, but there were only a couple of us who had a few.”
The Blues willingness to try so many players is why they dwarf Queensland in terms of membership for the one-game club. Cronulla hooker Aaron Raper was an unused substitute in Game 2 of the 1997 series, and Manly backrower Jamie Buhrer only got seven minutes in his sole outing in 2012.
Regardless of their experience, all players must have had the same picture in their heads when their name was called. How can your imagination not run wild when the coach tells you there will be a blue or maroon jersey with your name on the back? Fate becomes real, and all those old dreams come rushing back.
But reality often gets in the way. Some players are just unlucky to exist at the same time as an ageless superstar, while others’ dreams end suddenly after only one game. For the many players who didn’t get a fairytale ending, it’s a reality that’s hard to escape.