State of Origin match series = insight into Australian culture

Last night I went with Carl to a guys night at their church, GLOW Church, and watch the first of three State of Origin matches.  WOW were these guys into this match or what.  The best way I can describe it is to picture a big Super Bowl party held in one of the cities of a team playing in the game and attended by about 150 guys.  But in this case the room is divided about 60-40 for the 2 different teams, each sitting on their respective side of the room with many wearing team colors.  The game is shown on a BIG projection screen with great sound.  To increase the drama the Queensland Maroons have won the series for the last 8 years and expect to win again.  But this time the New South Wales Blues upset the Maroons in Brisbane 12-8.  (New South Wales stun Queensland in thriller)  It was an electric atmosphere.  Fun to be a part of even for me who doesn’t know the game and stakes.

I’ve begun to learn that Rugby League is a or more correctly THE major sport in eastern Australia, particularly in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD).  The State of Origin dates back about 40 years and is played between teams representing NSQ and QLD.  The name of the series comes from the fact that the “Players are selected to represent the Australian state in which they played their first senior rugby league game.”  To try to put this into an American context, imagine a professional sports series of three games between 2 states or areas of the country in which the team representing that area or city is composed of the best stars who started their pro careers in that series.  It would be an all-star game where the stars feel an attachment to the area the represent and want to win for the area and the spectators feel a strong attachment as well.

But the Blues versus the Maroons goes beyond just the sports series, it is all over in the two states.  Carl told me that when a baby is born in Australia they are given a medical records book.  The book is for the parents to track the baby’s medical history through about 5 years old.  All vaccinations, doctor visits, whatever are written in there.  If your baby is born in a hospital in Queensland the book cover is maroon, if in New South Wales it is blue.  Adelaide was born in a hospital close to the border between the two states and Carl & Meg were able to choose which color book they would have for her.  Carl said that this blues versus maroons theme shows up in many other ways in the area.

The game itself was fast paced, hard fought and exciting  I know very little about the rules of rugby.  I’ve learned that there are two versions: rugby union which is what the European teams play and which is in the Rugby World Cup, and rugby league, which is what dominates eastern Australia.  What I observed is that rugby league is pretty non-stop action:  getting tackled, starting the next series as soon as your teammates were 10 m back of the ball, pushing forward again and again.  Carl explained that you only have 6 downs to score a try.  If you don’t score it is a penalty and the other team gets to advance the  ball.  League does not have frequent stoppages of play that I’ve observed in union.  I also noticed that there is a trainer on the field back of the line. He readily gives the players a drink and tapes up cuts that are bleeding.  See a comparison here: Breaking the code: how rugby league and rugby union compare


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