De Barra: Origin just a storm in a teacup
It's very hard not to cringe every time you watch Channel Nine's State of Origin coverage.
You'd swear, given the Biblical references Ray Warren likes to chirp out at will, this was the greatest sporting show on earth. Channel Nine certainly seems to think it is.
To set things straight I'm a rugby league fan, albeit a recently converted one, but I find it very hard to buy into all of this overblown Origin bull.
Let's call a spade a spade here, New South Wales vs Queensland is nothing more than a storm in a tea cup. It's probably not even the biggest sporting rivalry in Australia, just ask the AFL boys.
It's hardly surprising that some NRL players - and I stress the word some - behave the way they do.
For the first two games in the series so far Warren has read out the team-sheets and waxed lyrical about the great charity work every member of this team has done and what great guys all of these fellas are. Spare me please.
There are ambulance drivers, firemen and soldiers that risk their lives on a daily basis for a basic public-sector wage that contribute far more without the fanfare. Which one would you rather your kids hero worshipping - them or Greg Bird?
No other sporting code goes on about how wonderful their players are for society, why does Origin feel the need to?
I'm sure that most of the 26 men taking to the field at Suncorp Stadium tonight are fine fellows, but we need to recognise them for what they are. They're just men chasing an inflated piece of leather around a field and are hugely overpaid for the privilege of doing so.
This is not a dig at them personally, I'd love to do it if my talents were that way inclined, but it's hardly surprising some players develop a God complex - heightened also by the presence of the Stone Age concept in rugby league that is Mad Monday.
Why pick on Origin? Aren't sports stars in other codes just as over-indulged?
Yes, of course they are but I'm yet come across a sporting event that carries as much guff and fanfare and that falls so easily at the feet of its participants.
In global terms, State of Origin is a non-entity. Yes, it might be broadcast to over 80 countries (as good old Ray likes to remind us every 10 minutes or so) but you ask anyone on the streets of roughly 75 of those nations - excluding Australia, New Zealand, (Northern) England and maybe the Pacific Islands - and you'll be met with a blank expression.
The greatest sporting rivalry on earth? Come off it.
I'm sure the majority of rugby league fans in Sydney and Queensland think it is but the simple fact is it lacks the history other truly global sporting rivalries have, it's only been going for 30 years for God's sake. Surround your Origin players with enough hype and they'll start to believe it.
Give me a clash between South Sydney and Manly any day. It mightn't be Origin (mate!) but at least it's got substance without the high-calorie dressing.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Celtic vs Rangers, Knicks vs Nets, All Blacks vs Springboks? Origin can't hold a candle to them - but at some stage it can. It should be given time to earn its stripes, however, before Warren & Co. carry out the canonisation ceremony on Billy Slater and Robbie Farah.
There's also a backward attitude (kept in good company by a spineless judiciary) when it comes to 'what goes on in Origin, stays in Origin'.
''That's just Origin mate,'' is the excuse given as toleration for the thuggery of Paul Gallen and Gordon Tallis
I'm sure someone like Richie McCaw must laugh at this. Were he to act like that in an All Black jersey, he could take up residence in the stands.
Perhaps he is not as tough as Gallen and Tallis some Origin fans might say? Yeah right.
You don't play over 100 games in test rugby without being a hard nut. McCaw just plays a tough game hard and fair and doesn't buy into the badly-written theatre an arm-swinging Gallen likes to deliver.
And what about non-Origin NRL players who get hammered by the judiciary to make up for their in-action over the three game series? A level playing field for teams like the New Zealand Warriors? I don't think so. If rugby league wants to grow it needs to be more than this and stop changing the rules for just two states in Eastern Australia. English rugby league has rivalries far older but doesn't buy into this. But more than that, how about looking at the bigger picture for what is a wonderful game?
''A bit of biff, that's just Origin mate...''
I'll tell you what else is ''just Origin'': New South Wales and Queensland. Storm in a teacup as I said.