It’s great to be a Queenslander. Especially if you were born in NSW.

July 3, 2012

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!

Stock up on your cheese and corn chips – it’s State of Origin time!

May 17, 2011

In our household, State of Origin means Special Dinner. As Locky leads the Maroons out, I’ll be tucking into a plate of nachos Billy Slater couldn’t leap over.

Kick off is just over a week away. Amazing how quickly it comes around. Game One. State versus state. Mate versus mate. And my footy feast.

Like the players, a bloke needs his Origin routine. Mine is finely tuned. If a ticket to the Cauldron hasn’t magically appeared, we revert to our regular roles.

The nachos thing started by accident in Bundaberg about twenty years ago. Nice and basic. Possibly the Treasurer’s sneaky way of suggesting I should have been firing up the BBQ. But the plan backfired.

There was something strangely soothing about yelling at the old Rank Arena through a mass of melted cheese and corn chips. I backed up for Game Two, and by Game Three the Kraft Tasty was so thick there was a paramedic on standby.

We took the hot plate tradition with us to Cairns, and then the Gold Coast. Different lounge rooms, same artery-clogging meal. Brisbane too. The only change of late has been who’s cooking.

The Treasurer has passed the salsa spreading baton down the line. Not Daughter One. Cooking is not her thing. Unless it’s pancakes or chocolate. Daughter Two, however, is a whizz in the kitchen.

She has made some subtle changes. Slightly less cheese, with a dab of avocado. Something about trying to make me eat healthier. I can’t complain. There are still cool drinks involved.

Origin routine. Every family has it. Dad’s special spot. Mum’s lucky jersey. Flags on the wall. And the golden rule. No talking while the game’s on.

I love it when local businesses get involved. The butcher’s snags. The baker’s cakes. All done in Origin colours. Special game night pizzas. Do they still do them? I remember they were big a few years ago. Not that we needed them in our house.

Street parties. Split down the middle. Blues over there, thanks. Maroons get the comfy chairs. The kids playing their own Origin battle out the back before kick off.

I’ve been to plenty of Origin functions over the years. Pubs and clubs chockers. Huge nights for local footy clubs. I enjoyed them in the early days. Free beer until the first point is scored. We’d pray for a wet night and slippery ball.

Now, I’d rather be at home. Total focus on the big screen. Volume up. No distractions. Yelling mindlessly at every play. Jumping out of the chair. Waving fists at you-know-who, throwing early cheap shots.

Of course, the only thing better than being at home, is being at the ground. Experiencing Origin live is something everyone should get to do. It never disappoints. And there’s nowhere better than the Cauldron.

I never tire of hearing tales about the old Lang Park. I interviewed the legendary Choppy Close once. He told me the story of how he and his mate used to climb over the fence to get in for free. The scam worked a treat, until the day the security blokes spotted them.

Choppy’s mate had a wooden leg, meaning he didn’t quite have the great man’s speed. In the drama of the chase, his makeshift pin fell off. Both rolled down the hill. Reckon that’s ever happened at the Olympic Stadium?

No climbing the fence now. That’s ok. There’s no better place to watch a game of anything. It’s world-class. And best of all, the daunting, ear-splitting spirit of Lang Park is never far from the surface.

I love that kids all over Queensland will live in their Maroon jumpers for the next week. Especially in the bush. A concept originally designed to keep interstate footy alive, now makes an entire state happy. Or sad. Depending on the result.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For those staying home, there’s a menu to be worked out. Remember, nothing fancy. And if there’s any family tensions, just quote me. You’re not a true fan if there’s no cheese.