The response of ordinary Australians – carefully kept distinct from that of the Australian government – to this summer’s catastrophic bushfires has been quite inspiring. Millions upon millions have been voluntarily poured into various fundraising efforts, and it looks like the Australian Football League is going to come to the party in a big way: they’re considering bringing back State of Origin to raise funds for bushfire recovery.
This is excellent news, on both the “we need to help the less fortunate” and “we want something awesome to happen in footy” fronts. An Origin game – more than twenty years after the format was quietly euthanased by the AFL, and more than a decade after it was revived on a one-off basis for an exhibition match – would be a huge moneyspinner for a good cause. It would also be welcomed like manna in the wilderness by the legions of football fans who never stopped loving the idea of State of Origin, if not by the clubs who always hated it because of the way playing football tends to expose players to the risk of popping knees and busting shoulders. But even AFL clubs wouldn’t dare protest about a game put on to raise money for fire victims.
Of course, when we say “State of Origin”, it’s a kind of loose usage. While the concept as it was originally devised – and as it’s still used in the titanic yearly rugby league clashes – was for players to represent their home states in ferocious battles for pride, the charity game will be a team of Victorians playing for their home states versus a team of non-Victorians playing for the “All-Stars”, which is unlikely to arouse as much tribalistic fervour amongst denizens of the All-Star states. Victoria versus South Australia would be much more fun, inasmuch as it’d be much more bloodthirsty.
Still, it IS for a great cause, and half-arsed Origin is better than no Origin, as any NRL fan alive in 1997 will tell you. So raise your flags, footy lovers, and let’s cheer on our gladiators as they fight mightily for the pride of the noble state of All-Stars!