Haas and Tino going toe-to-toe was about them, not some State of Origin mysticism

To paraphrase Morpheus’s thoughts on the Matrix, no-one can be told what State of Origin is; you have to see it for yourself.

And Game I of the 2020 series was very much like Neo’s famous trip through the mirror and into the real world.

As much as he was woken up, the Blues were too, resulting in the late arrival of the 34-10 shellacking we all expected a week ago.

After a Queensland team of probably inferior players mounted a miracle comeback, a less green but still relatively inexperienced Blues side had their eyes opened.

Despite being told stories of Kenny vs Lewis, Lockyer vs Andrew Johns and Smith vs Gallen, it didn’t seem to have sunk in, and that’s because listening to tales from former players will never be the same as the real thing.

And both the teams coming into this series were lacking that real-life experience.

A male Queensland State of Origin player looks down at the ground against New South Wales.A male Queensland State of Origin player looks down at the ground against New South Wales.
Having debuted in 2013, Daly Cherry-Evans is one of the Maroons who has experienced the highs and lows of Origin.(AAP: Brendon Thorne)

Guys like James Tedesco and Boyd Cordner experienced the back end of the Queensland dynasty, but that’s about it for NSW. While the Maroons are littered with rookies who probably wouldn’t have bothered wasting time thinking about an Origin debut as recently as a few months ago.

So of course when they arrived on the Origin scene they didn’t automatically despise each other.

The fireworks weren’t there in Origin I because most of the players were just happy to be there and too focused on football to worry about aggro.

In Game II — a more traditional, penalty-laden, up-the-guts Origin contest — the players got to know each other a bit more and they didn’t love everything they saw.

This underdog Maroons side spent an hour getting beat up on by the Blues and got tired of it; just like decades spent as a punching bag came to a head in 1980 or years of Blue-washing spurred the start of the dynasty in 2006.

Two male New South Wales State of Origin players embrace as they celebrate a try against Queensland.Two male New South Wales State of Origin players embrace as they celebrate a try against Queensland.
Tyson Frizell has always found ways to make his passion clear on the field without overstepping.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Not that it takes that long for Nathan Brown to get under the skin of his opponents, nor does it take much for Jake Friend to react, but when Brown kicked the ball away and Friend gave him a clip over the ear, tensions boiled over.

While Wayne Bennett would like to blame the media for stoking the fires that led to a fight between Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Payne Haas, the people to blame are, as usual, the people grabbing jerseys and throwing punches.

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It didn’t boil over because the spirit of Terry Hill and Gorden Tallis inhabited the players on the park, but because of the individual circumstances in that game.

And now we can see those sort of rivalries develop over, ideally, the next decade as those 20-year-old giants dominate for their respective forward packs.

2020 is an early chapter in a long book

We’ve seen Josh Papalii cement his place as a leader of Queensland’s pack in recent years and through the past two series, Jai Arrow is staking a claim as his capable lieutenant.

Out back, we watched Xavier Coates peppered by Nathan Cleary and Cody Walker’s kicks, and he had seven shades beat through him by the Blues chasing those kicks, perhaps furious that he had the audacity to score against them.

Xavier Coates scores a Queensland tryXavier Coates scores a Queensland try
Despite a spectacular opening try, Xavier Coates’s second Origin game was a painful one.

Of course he hadn’t had that experience before his debut, but he’ll take that into the next game.

Who knows how it will manifest? Maybe he’ll start running the ball back the way Daniel Tupou did on Wednesday night, or maybe he’ll be more timid on the ground or in the air.

On the NSW side of the coin, Cleary put on an Andrew Johns-esque masterclass in what was his first dominant performance in blue.

The point is, whether it’s about how they should play or how much they hate some guy on the other team, Arrow, Coates, Cleary and all the other emerging stars can’t learn from or build on these experiences before they’ve had them.

Nathan Cleary and Josh Addo-Carr hug as Tyson Frizell and Clint Gutherson look on after a NSW Blues try in State of Origin II.Nathan Cleary and Josh Addo-Carr hug as Tyson Frizell and Clint Gutherson look on after a NSW Blues try in State of Origin II.
Nathan Cleary (right) carved out his own slice of Origin history on Wednesday night.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Game I was a lesson for all of them in different ways, as was the week that followed, and the game they played on Wednesday night was another one.

Coates learned it’s not always going to be smooth sailing outside Dane Gagai, Arrow learned his go-forward isn’t always going to power the team to victory, and Cleary learned to back himself because pulling on a different jersey doesn’t mean you’re a different player.

These guys will make their own history and create their own rivalries the same way every other generation has.

And we can just enjoy watching it grow, rather than eulogising the very concept of State of Origin every time we go a game or two without all the fire and fury of yesteryear.