Jarryd Jackson is eight and loves rugby league. He works hard in class, but can't wait for the bell to ring. The playground is his element. There, he can pass like Cameron Smith, tackle like Sam Thaiday, bash and crash like Dave Taylor and can kick the winning field goal like Cooper Cronk.
''I just love the Maroons,'' says Jarryd, taking a swig from his limited edition Johnathan Thurston autographed water bottle.
''All me and my friends want to do is play for them when we grow up.''
But, for Jarryd, this will not be a merry Christmas. The grinches of the ARL Commission have stolen this young boy's dream by declaring he can never play for his beloved Queensland.
The warped logic behind a decision that has broken an eight-year-old's heart? Jarryd, like so many kids, will not be permitted to pull on a maroon jersey merely because he was born, and has lived his entire life, in NSW.
It is a ruling that destroys the very notion that underpins State of Origin - Queensland being the ''state'' and everyone else coming to them from an ''origin''.
''We just can't understand it,'' said Jarryd's father Brendan. ''Sure, when I was a kid you might have had to play for the Blues if you were from a place just over the Queensland border, like Albury. But it has been well established that most talented kids from NSW owe their skill to some Queensland link. Do you think Jarryd could play as well as he does if he had not listened to Ricki-Lee Coulter or read the collected speeches of Kevin Rudd? He's Queensland all over.''
Jarryd had met the previous eligibility criteria to play for the Maroons. ''He knows all the words to the Queensland national anthem, including the verse about the giant pineapple and can shell a Moreton Bay bug in less than 20 seconds,'' Brendan said.
''But, apparently, that's not good enough any more. If you're not born with a cane-cutter in one hand a XXXX stubbie in the other, you're not a real Queenslander. Just because you've never been there.''
The draconian new rule has hit Jarryd hard. ''The kid is devastated,'' Brendan said. ''Like every kid from Punchbowl, he's grown up thinking that, one day, he would run out before his adoring fellow Queenslanders at Suncorp Stadium. We were even thinking of going to Brisbane one day, just to see what it's like. Not much point now, is there?''
Brendan is concerned for the emotional wellbeing of the many young boys from south of the Tweed now threatened with the prospect they will have to play for NSW. ''The night after the ruling Jarryd woke up screaming,'' he said.
''He had a nightmare Laurie Daley and Blocker Roach were holding him down and forcing him to put on a Blues jersey. Daley was saying things like, 'Come on, trust me, we can win the series this year'. No kid should be subjected to that.''
Queensland officials have vowed to appeal the decision. ''First NSW get two home games when it's their turn, now this,'' said a Queensland Rugby League spokesman.
''It's just another example of a NSW-dominated commission tying the game up in red tape, when the maroon tape was holding things together nicely.''
Reminded that commission chairman John Grant is a Queenslander, the QRL spokesman replied: ''He's gone native. But unless he changes this decision and restores the God-given right of every child in this country - and a few others - to play for Queensland, the backlash will make Cyclone Larry look like a light breeze through a fruit shop window.''
Bizarrely, the commission has determined State of Origin would now be interpreted as meaning a player must represent the state from which he originates.
''What next?'' said the man from north of the border. ''To bat for England you have to come from Birmingham, not Bloemfontein? This is the type of blatant discrimination that inspires our players to go out there year after year and perform for their state. Or, at least, for our state.''
Meanwhile, Jarryd sits in his bedroom gazing up at the posters of Queensland Origin champions. ''Please Mr Grant,'' he says, fighting back tears.
''I'll do anything to play for Queensland. I've got Google Maps on my iPod. I'll even find out where it is!''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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