BY PETER ROWE
State of Origin is both brutal and brilliant – a statement of everything that is great about rugby league.
League fans know that but in Perth on Sunday some AFL ‘converts’ were astonished at the intensity and passion.
“There are players out on their feet and still tackling,” West Coast Eagles member Tommy said.
Tommy, an Optus Stadium regular, was attending his first Origin with league mates, and was loving every minute – from the action on the field to the excitement off it.
The electric atmosphere, the passion of the fans, whether blue or maroon – although on this night, the chant of New South Wales drowned out any Queenslander call.
“This is better than an Eagles game” was Tommy’s reaction as the Blues turned it on in the second half.
To some an astonishing statement from a State where another code rules supreme – but one which emphasizes the growing support for rugby league in WA.
The converted – the 4,000 local participants plus their families and supporters – already know that, but on a cool midwinters’ evening on the west coast of Australia, a few thousand extra voices were added.
‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ roared from the stadium sound system to celebrate Jarome Luai’s dance to the try line midway through the second half – but there was satisfaction in abundance in the almost 60,000 crowd.
“Yes, we could hear them,” NSW captain James Tedesco said after the match. “They (the fans) really helped us – an amazing atmosphere.”
That atmosphere began a few hours earlier as fans flocked to the arena to witness this gladiatorial clash.
Two hours before kickoff – and some 10 kilometre’s away, fans in sky blue jerseys were running to catch a bus to take them to that arena. As the bus pulled up, more fans, this time in maroon, leapt from behind a shelter to jump aboard.
It was as if the whole of Perth had abandoned its AFL roots for the day – to take a look at the remarkable spectacle Origin is.
Outside the stadium fans mingled, families split between blue and maroon – but all enjoying the occasion.
LED lit goalposts – one win blue and the other in maroon – showcased the stadium’s ability to host the big events – and in rugby league circles you don’t get any bigger than Origin.
Packed bars emptied as fans poured in – no rain – a mild 18 degrees – but a lot hotter on the field.
An evenly matched first half kept fans on their toes – and to Tommy and his mates – kept them interested.
Daniel Tupou’s try opened the floodgates for New South Wales 13 minutes into the second half as Blues’ fans roared their appreciation – at decibel levels equivalent to anything over east.
When Nathan Cleary crossed for the first of his two tries, an attempt to start a Mexican Wave was dampened by a bigger interest in the actual game – fans in the west know their footy and they were appreciating a masterclass from the classy halfback.
The tries kept coming and the fans kept cheering – til the end – it was a day to remember, one they want to witness many times over again.
Trains packed, taking fans back to the suburbs, Blues fans laughing and joking, Queenslander’s a little subdued – but all still loving the moment.
Even the Sydney media found a way to celebrate the success of the event on the west coast with a ‘PERTHQUAKE’ headline to celebrate a NSW victory.
It wasn’t just a Blues’ victory – it was a signal that rugby league means so much to West Australians – who turned out in their numbers to support the event, not just as casually interested sports fans, but as fans who know the code, love the sport and want to see more.
And on that final siren – a message from one elated local club president read : “Now give us a team.”
As for Tommy, will he be back? “You bet I will! Loved every minute.”