Origin stuffs up the NRL, again

The NRL’s first split round for the year was a complete bludger. Four games out of control at the limit, with three eruptions and a “closed” decided by a converted try but of an overall terrible quality.

If we thought blowouts and shoddy games were bad enough in 2021, we’ve just gotten a taste of the impact of this year’s State of Origin series.

Fans reacted to the weekend’s results as they normally would based on their teams’ performances so far. Some Panthers fans in particular reacted quite badly to their 20-point loss to the Wests Tigers.

(Photo by Jason McCawley / Getty Images)

But it’s too hard to potty up the players who are there during the Origin period, who come out of sophomore competitions but should still maintain the starting level and build immediate combinations with established players who are not in. Origin. camp.

It’s always been strange how the NRL sees almost everything through the Origin lens. Promising young players are ranked as whether or not ready for Origin, rather than judged on their ability to lead a team to a premier position.

When Melbourne Storm star pair Harry Grant and Cameron Munster were injured in early May, initial diagnoses were reported almost entirely against their ability to be fit enough for Origin Game 1 (they are).

Newcastle full-back Kalyn Ponga has a groin injury, which he missed a bit of time with. He always went to the Queensland camp, but was sent home shortly after being kicked out.

Ponga has now been released for an extended period, possibly even including the second Origin. His club coach Adam O’Brien has his own issues, with an underperforming club in freefall and his reputation and maybe even his work on the line. But he’s now been without Ponga for a long time.

“Looking back, his best chance for Game 2 would have been to stay here and continue working with the squad that works with him,” O’Brien said of Ponga on Sunday.

Again, the commentary on this isn’t that Ponga will miss critical and season-defining club games, it’s about his fitness to be able to play Origin.

Knights fans must be delighted that after missing all this time, Ponga will emerge from a long injury straight into Origin’s cauldron.

Newcastle Knights' Kalyn Ponga scores try

(Photo by Ashley Feder / Getty Images)

We are constantly told that State of Origin is the pinnacle of the game, which is undeniable.

But should it be? Should clubs hand in their best players to get bashed, save a few days later and then disappear again as the three-game streak unfolds?

For all the unforgettable moments he gave us, Johnathan Thurston has never been quite the same after suffering a serious shoulder injury during Origin.

Are North Queensland fans just supposed to be proud that he represented Queensland, or are they right to be disgusting at the lost opportunities for the team they pay to watch? Can you think both thoughts at the same time? Sure you can.

Is it really a best of the best competition if there are no players from Tonga, Samoa, England, New Zealand and other countries that are not in Queensland or New South Wales? And yes, I ignore fuzzy selection practices.

To develop the game and get everyone’s support, it’s surely the international team that needs a boost?

Well no.

As is usually the case, the answer is money. State of Origin is a colossus that brings in advertising funds, sponsorships, and opportunities to win that aren’t there for the regular season. It gives Channel Nine midweek prime-time ratings, which propels the rugby league to the forefront at the time of the year-end review.

Maroons celebrate Harry Grant tryout in Game 3 of State of Origin series

(Photo by Chris Hyde / Getty Images)

When the next round of negotiations begins for the game, it might be a good idea to separate the Origin series from the regular season to earn some extra cash.

This would likely reduce what broadcasters are willing to pay for a non-Origin package, which ironically proves that Origin is too big for the NRL regular season.

The mythical “occasional fan” is a regular at Origin. They love to watch and then they go away but don’t take a new love for rugby with them. The still massive ratings for State of Origin have yet to translate into more eyes on club play.

People consume Origin games and then they’re gone until the grand finale. Fans stick around, but endure six weeks of vastly inferior NRL competition.

I know nothing is going to change because it is rugby league and there is way too much money at stake to change things now. It’s unclear what could actually change that would help the regular season. Original selection limits of each team? Three byes from the Origin weekend? Shutting down the NRL for a month and playing Origin standalone?

Completely disband Origin and play an international tournament?

I don’t want Origin to go away or shrink. I love watching the show praying that no one gets hurt. I will be a keen observer this Wednesday and if Melbourne weren’t under lock and key I would be there.

But it’s so strange that a competition would be so happy to disrupt itself so massively for such a significant part of the season for a three-game two-state streak.

And it’s good to have those two thoughts at the same time.

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