Andrew Webster: State of Origin is the $525 million monster devouring the NRL
OPINION: State of Origin is the A$500 million [NZ$525 million] monster that is devouring the National Rugby League.
The home-and-away competition needs to be shortened by a month with all three Origin matches played on standalone weekends.
On Sunday, before 13,559 fans at an icy cold ANZ Stadium in Sydney, the Eels beat the Dragons 24-10.
Sure, it was an entertaining fixture between two famous clubs with flashes of brilliance at both ends of the park, many of them from Clint Gutherson. There was even the sniff of an all-in brawl late in the game.
In an ideal world, though, the Dragons should never have had to do it without their two best players, NSW stars Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell, who were taking part in an opposed session at Leichhardt Oval ahead of Origin II at the same venue on Wednesday night.
The Dragons have lost five of their past seven. They're out of the top four, sliding to sixth on the ladder. If ever they needed all hands on deck, it's now. But like so many clubs at this time of year, they are limping through as best they can.
Saturday night's matches, between the Storm and Cowboys at AAMI Park in Melbourne and the Sharks and Tigers at Southern Cross Group Stadium in Sydney, were also edge-of-your-seat stuff. But how ridiculous that two games could be missing as many as 16 Origin players. Sixteen. Too much.
Some will argue the Origin interruption gives us a decent look at the likes of young Melbourne halves Brodie Croft and Ryley Jacks, both stars of their side's thrilling golden-point victory that came via a Croft field goal in the 84th minute.
I'd prefer to see the likes of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith from the Storm up against the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan from the Cowboys. We'll be seeing enough of Croft and Jacks in time.
There's no perfect solution to the problem, the argument caught between fans being bored out of their skulls if there's only one game played on the weekend and fans growing sick of seeing their side fall into a six-week Origin abyss. In 2015, when Shane Richardson was head of strategy and game development at the NRL, he came up with a solution. He wanted a 22-round season with Origins standing on their own with a three-week break in between. Like much of the common sense in his manifesto, it was ignored by the NRL.
Instead, the NRL put the blinkers on and took the bucks on offer. Clubs whinge about the impact of Origin on their season, but still want the money that it generates. Next year we have one standalone Origin weekend with other internationals built around it. It's sort of a solution.
Nobody can dispute Origin's importance. According to NRL sources, about A$500 million of the five-year A$1.8 billion broadcast deal starting from next year can be ascribed to the Origin monster.
There have been arguments for Origin to be reduced to just one big match, but the reality is the TV networks want Origin first, NRL second. And everyone loves a trilogy. Imagine if they only made one Star Wars.
Despite exorbitant ticket prices, and the fact the Queenslanders could not sell out game one, ANZ Stadium will be at capacity on Wednesday night as NSW attempt to wrap up the series.
In the meantime, however, the NRL competition limps along. A Sunday afternoon fixture between two Sydney heavyweights should surely attract more than 13,000 fans dotted around a stadium with an 82,000-seat capacity.
As this match was being played, more than 20,000 people were attending the Supanova comic and gaming expo at Sydney Showground next door.
Not that long ago grown men idolised Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling. Now they're dressing up as Batman and Robin and going to comic book conventions. Go figure. Maybe it says more about the world than rugby league.
Of course, you wouldn't have found an Eels supporter on Sunday night complaining about Origin and its impact on the NRL season After their dismal performance against the Cowboys in Darwin, this Parramatta team played with renewed hunger. The new halves combination of Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses finally found a groove.
Gutherson — playing at fullback with Bevan French switched to the wing — scored after just three minutes when he snapped up the ball after it deflected off Dragons prop Jack de Belin.
In the 25th minute the Dragons finally found some space out wide. Winger Kalifa Faifai Loa put in a grubber kick, it got caught up in Gutherson's feet, he scooped it up and then raced 80 metres to score.
The Dragons finally hit back when makeshift fullback Jason Nightingale pulled off a classic fend-and-flick close to the line to put Nene Macdonald over in the corner … but that's as close as they got.
Early in the second half, the Dragons threw a loose pass on halfway, French came in off his wing and crunched Joel Thompson as he was trying to clean up and before you knew it Michael Jennings was motoring down field to score.
The Parramatta monster had devoured the Dragons.
- Sydney Morning Herald