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Why aren't American sports more popular in Australia?

How did AFL evolve?

How has class warfare shaped the NRL?

Why does rugby union have a private school boy image?

Does soccer suffer discrimination in Australia?

How have notions of identity been expressed in cricket?

Why does only one code play State of Origin?

Why are there 4 football codes in Australia?

What are some team names in Australia?

State of Origin football

State of Origin Football

State of origin football, whereby players represent the state they were born in or grew up in, is one of the odd features of the Australian football landscape. It was invented by Australian football as a kind of substitute for international competition, but it died out when the Victorian Football League expanded into a national league.

The concept of State of Origin football was picked up by rugby league. Although rugby league had international competition, it seemed that league fans in NSW and Queensland were more interested in seeing their state representative teams beat each other than see their national teams beat Britain or New Zealand.

Rugby union used to have a state rivalry between NSW and Queensland, but this was less important than international competition. Today, rugby players play for a state, but it doesn’t have to be a state that they had ever previously lived in.

Soccer has never had a version of state of origin.

Origin of the origin concept

First staged in 1883, inter-colonial football represented the first coming together of Australia as one nation. These popular football carnivals were rotated around Australia, with players selected from each state league. As the Victorian Football League (VFL) became Australia's most financially powerful state league, it soon poached the best players Australia wide and became unbeatable.

In the 1970s, Western Australia argued that state teams should use similar eligibility criteria to that used for international teams. Specifically, players should represent their region of origin rather than the league they play in. The first State of Origin match between Western Australia and Victoria was held in 1977 with Western Australia winning by a staggering 94 points.

State of Origin continued to be seen as the pinnacle of Australian football until the addition of teams from Western Australia and South Australia into the VFL presented new marketing dilemmas and administrative headaches. One of the problems was that the expansionist team acted a bit like a state representative teams. In a sense, every time they played, they were fulfilling the state rivalry served by an Origin series. Another problem was that the higher intensity of Origin football was damaging to bodies. Because the expansionist teams had to provide more players for state duty, their prospects for a grand final victory were hampered relative to the prospects of the Victorian clubs.

A final problem was the difficulty in putting on an even contest. Each state was not even close to being even in the talent pool it could draw from. To be more precise, SA, WA and Victoria all could compete against each other; however, NSW, Queensland and Tasmania could not. It just proved to be too difficult to create a tournament that included three strong teams, and three weak teams in a way that held spectator interest.

While state of origin has floundered in Australian rules, it has been a success in rugby league, where it is solely a two-horse race. The first rugby league Origin was staged in 1980.  The new format proved to be am instant success and greatly contributed to the growth of popularity of rugby league in Queensland. Come Origin time, the entire state united behind their team.

A few early marketing gimmicks have also stayed until today. Queenslanders are referred to as Cane Toads in a derogatory reference to the plague of toads that they live with. New South Welshman are referred to as Cockroaches, due to the abundance that live in Sydney houses. Officially, Queensland are the Maroons and NSW are the Blues.

Cockroaches and Cane Toads


Queenslanders are generally seen as the more passionate of the two states. This is probably because it is far easier to chant “Queenslander Queenslander Queenslander ” than "New South Welshman New South Welshman New South Welshman". This makes it seem as though Queensland crowds are more vocal in their support.

As well as helping promote rugby league as a whole, Origin football also helped build the star quality of individual players. Arguably, it is thanks to Origin that rugby league fans have less of a tall-poppy syndrome than their AFL counterparts. Star AFL players like Chris Judd will always be the enemy of fans of the other 15 clubs that hate Carlton. In rugby league; however, star players like Greg Inglis and Billy Slater represent a state, and Australia, and this allows them to also represent a broader market.

When the Brisbane Broncos entered the NSWRL in 1987, rugby league Origin faced some of the obstacles that had afflicted the Australian football version. Specifically, the Broncos supplied a disproportionately high number of players, and this in turn hindered the club's home and away prospects. Furthermore, the Broncos were State of Origin every week. Unlike the AFL clubs; however, the Broncos saw the promotional benefits in supplying a high number of players and in being seen as the state team. It leveraged those benefits to become the most popular rugby league team in Australia.

Some of the problems of supplying an excessive number of players have since been dissipated with the addition of a second team in Nth Queensland and a third on the Gold Coast. The addition has helped the Broncos premiership prospects but reduced their popularity in Queensland.

While rugby league gains benefit from State of Origin, it is not without cost. In comparison to the elite standard of play seen in Origin, club football looks a bit second rate.

Economically speaking, more money is made from the 180 or so games in a home and away season than in three games of State of Origin, so it is a bit irrational for rugby league administrators to potentially damage the appeal of home and away for the Origin. On the flip side, the Origin is such a great advertisement for the rugby brand and an effective weapon in protecting the rugby league line that damage to the home and away season can be justified.

Activity 1 - Develop solutions to make State of Origin work in the AFL

Since expanding from the VFL to the AFL, the AFL administration has not been able to make State of Origin work. Either devise some ideas about what could be done to make it work, or assess the strategies below in regards to their potential to make it work.

When assessing the strategies, also consider other consequences, such as the affect each may have on the regular season.

Overcoming concerns about player welfare

1) Cap working hours - If post-season operations are the norm (rather than the exception) then AFL players are currently being asked to do more than what the average human body is capable of. State of Origin would add to this burden with the addition extra gruelling games.

In many industries, employee welfare is protected with caps on the amount of time that they can work. The AFL could perhaps do something similar to protect its players, which are the game’s employees. A possible solution would be to limit players to only 18 regular games each season. This would force every player to miss at least 4 games (more if the season were extended); however, because it is mandatory, the Brownlow Medal prospects of the elite players would be unharmed. With less regular season strain, playing Origin would be less likely to push players to breaking point.  

2) Play at the end of the season – If the games are played at the end of the finals, then players not involved in the finals would have had time to recuperate before the games and time afterwards - provided they are not booked in for operations. (It is common in the rugby codes to play international matches at the end of the season.)

3) Have a break in the season to play the Origin – If the season were stopped to play the Origin, then players involved miss a break that other players get; however, they don’t have to play two games in a week as do league Origin players.

Overcoming a lack of competiveness

1) Change eligibility criteria - Queensland and NSW have a smaller talent pool to choose from, which makes them less competitive. A possible solution would be to use eligibility criteria to something more closely aligned with a country’s representative team. The primary criteria would be the state of birth but the secondary criteria would be state that the player has been in for at least five years. For example, a Victorian player drafted to the Sydney Swans who was not selected by Victoria but had built a career in Sydney could play for NSW. (This is allowed in international competition where a person has migrated to the new country and can represent that country in sport.)

2) Create a format that increases probability of even contests – The horror prospect would be for Victoria to play Tasmania and win by 200 points. To avoid the prospect, the tournament could be structured to avoid uncompetitive games. For example, a possible idea would be to rank the six states 1-6. 1 plays 2 for a spot in the final and 3 plays 4 for a spot in the final. 5 and 6 play for rank 4 the following year.

For argument’s sake, say the first year the states were ranked Vic, SA/NT, WA, NSW/ACT, Tas and matches went according to rank:

Week 1

Victoria defeats South Australia/NT.
WA defeats NSW/ACT
Queensland defeats Tasmania

Week 2

Victoria defeats WA in final

Ranking for next year would be
1)Vic 2) WA 3) SA 4) Queens 5) NSW 6)Tas.

3) Give the underdogs an advantage – To increase the prospect of a close game, the underdog team could be given the home ground advantage.

Compensating clubs
Clubs should benefit from the increased exposure of their star players; however, this benefit seems to be outweighed by a fear of players getting injured. Perhaps to provide an incentive for clubs to overcome their fears

  • Give salary cap concessions for every player a club contributes
  • Give draft concessions for ever play a club contributes
  • Allow larger playing lists for clubs that have contributed a player
  • Allow clubs to recruit players midseason if a player is injured during origin