Blame Matty Bowen. It’s all his fault. If he hadn’t been so bloody quick, I might never have come clean.
Origin One, 2005. One of the all-time great encounters. At Queensland’s home of rugby league.
Scores locked at fulltime. Both teams spent. Fans hoarse. Extra time. The game’s finest, digging deep, searching for reserves that only the very best possess.
Legs like jelly. Lungs screaming for air. Eyes scanning for just one more opportunity.
It came, from a stray pass. Blues halfback Brett Kimmorley deserved better. He tried something, and it backfired. A state would never forgive him.
He went wide, searching for one last runner. The stocky number 7 fired off a pass, and immediately wanted it back. Because the ball was heading to a Maroon.
Not just any Maroon. A little bloke from Hopevale, deep in Cape York. With blinding speed, even in the 84th minute.
As soon as that Steedon landed on Matty Bowen’s chest, the Blues knew they were gone. The Maroons knew they were home. Wild, passionate cheering erupted across the state.
In the stadium, thousands leapt to their feet. Me included. Screaming for the little Cowboy to get to that line. Hugging the bloke in the next seat. Concrete foundations rocked by one giant Happy Dance.
It was only after I had unlocked myself from one of those manly embraces in Row 16, that it dawned on me what had just happened. My true feelings had bubbled to the surface. Confirmation, for me at least, that I was now a Queenslander.
For a few years before that night, I had been in the sporting Twilight Zone. I wrote about it on these pages twelve months ago. And plenty of readers told me that they had been there too.
That difficult, uneasy time when you don’t know where home is. Do you support your birthplace, or your home address?
It’s true, I was Blue when I first arrived north of the border 22 years ago. But the fire faded, gradually. The passion shifted, as I realised that the wonderful patch beyond the Tweed would be home forever more.
I couldn’t cheer for a state I no longer had feeling for. And was never going back to. Hence, the Twilight Zone. And I was stuck there for years.
That’s where you just enjoy the quality of the football. The ability of those involved. Without actually supporting anyone. Safer that way.
Friends down south accuse you of being a turncoat. Born and bred Queenslanders don’t want you, until you’ve served your time up here. What’s the timeframe? They won’t tell you.
Just when I thought I would never know, magical Matty provided me with the answer. By getting me so excited that night in 2005 that I forgot what the rules were.
Right about now, the predictable chorus kicks in. State of ORIGIN, you fool. How hard can it be? You don’t have a choice.
It’s that time when I have to explain to those who have trouble lacing up their own shoes, that Origin has nothing to do with it. For the players, and the fans. It’s a title only.
So here we go again. If it really was State of Origin, Peter Stirling would have been a famous Queensland halfback. The mighty Greg Inglis would be lining up for the Blues tonight.
Ken Nagas is a Bundaberg boy, who gave his all for the Blues.
Tenterfield lad Billy Moore would never have uttered the immortal ‘Queenslander’ call. He would have charged out of that tunnel, yelling ‘New South Wales-er.’ Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?
Can I be any clearer? All those players were born in the state they ended up doing battle with.
Big Petero would never have played an Origin game. Nor would Tonie Carroll, Brad Thorn, Ben Te’o or James Tamou. Kiwis and Pacific Islanders all.
For fans, the rules are even less defined. But trying to change sides is more difficult than mastering Chinese scrabble. And because there’s so much at stake, that’s probably a good thing.
The funny thing is, my true mates get it. They don’t care. Sure, there’s good-natured ribbing this time every year. But they know. And they’re happy for me.
I have great friends who live here in Queensland, long time residents, who’ll be Blues till the day they die. They’ve made the choice to stick to their birthplace. And I’m happy for them.
For some reason, my love of all things Maroon infuriates those who I have bugger all to do with anymore. People I’ve had no contact with in thirty years, track me down, only to get themselves into a lather. As if I’ve broken a family code.
Well, good people, let me clarify once and for all. I couldn’t care less. All that matters, is that I can sit with my daughters tonight, dressed in Maroon from head to toe. We’ll cheer like lunatics for Queensland. Their home state. My adopted state. And there’ll be boos for the Blues.
State of Origin is all about passion. For everyone involved. That’s why we embrace it like we do. But don’t be confused about home-town loyalty.
Home is where the heart is. And mine now pumps Maroon. Go Queensland!