This week saw the final game played of a three-game series between the Maroons, representing Queensland, and the Blues, representing New South Wales. Whilst the 'footy' series finals are fairly recent, having only started back in the 1980s, the series is rapidly becoming the premier sporting contest in this part of the southern hemisphere, arguably bigger in scale than the competitions offered by the rival codes of Australian Rules Football (AFL) and Rugby Union, and second only to the National Rugby League (NRL)'s Grand Final, which falls later in the rugby league calendar and attracts television audiences in the tens of millions.
Yet it is Origin which signifies sport's greatest rivalry between the two proud and fanatical neighbouring Australian states, in a time when the international game is losing support and Australian sports teams are clamouring to make their code more exciting and interesting than their rivals. The two Origin teams are comprised of players selected to play for the state in which they played their first senior rugby league match, hence the name 'state of origin'. With the nation's greatest stars in rugby league lining up to play for the two teams, this footy battle of almost epic proportions ignites a diehard passion in a large proportion of the Australian population as three days of team loyalty and rugby fanaticism is celebrated over the course of as many weeks.
If you'd arrived in Australia in only the past few years, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a one-sided sport, given that Queensland has won the series every year since 2006. In fact, I've not seen a Blues victory in all my short expat life in Sydney yet, with the arrival of each annual series, the population of New South Wales gets behind their boys in the faint hope of defeating the invincible Maroons (known in Australia as the Mar-owns).
Maroons Captain Darren Lockyer in the midst of the action.
Origin has come to be seen as a chance for Queenslanders to get their own back on an arrogant and undeserving Sydney-dominated league whilst, for New South Welshmen, Origin is a chance to settle old scores and prove former glory and dominance over its rowdy, unkempt neighbours from the north. Which ever way you frame it, Origin is a uniquely Australian tournament with one of sport's greatest rivalries doing battle in an arena that gets bigger and better as each year passes.
Although Origin 2011 ended predictably with Queensland taking the series 2-1, there was at least some future glimmer of hope for New South Wales with the knowledge that the Maroon's all-conquering hero of a captain, Darren Lockyer, is retiring from the contest after six straight wins. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported this week that the appointment of his successor, Cooper Cronk, another impressive rugby league star, will simply allow what is a formidable line-up in the regular NRL competition to combine again, but this time in Origin 2012.
Most importantly, was I found to be celebrating the final game of the series in a crowded pub or gathered round a friend's 42 inch LCD TV. Unfortunately not. Instead, I chose to spend the early part of the game training with my Warrior troupe, the twenty or more of us decked out in varying colours of maroon or blue as we shuttle ran, flipped heavy tyres, and pumped endless, weighty iron.
And with no less intensity than any Origin game, I'll have you know.
What would be the equivalent of an Origin Series where you are? And, if you're in Australia, are you a maroon or a blue?
Am I a blue or a maroon?