State of Origin is happening in Adelaide, but do any of the locals really care?

The decision to play the 2020 State of Origin opener in Adelaide has not, it’s fair to say, been a universally popular one.

Almost three years ago, when it was revealed the match would be held in Adelaide, some Queensland MPs were so incensed they wore maroon armbands into Parliament.

The decision also raised eyebrows on the western side of the so-called “Barassi line” — the imaginary demarcation dividing Australia’s predominantly AFL areas from those dominated by NRL.

“Who let State of Origin on the hallowed turf of the Adelaide Oval?” one South Australian local recently wrote on Twitter.

“[This] will not gain any interest from me, not our sport, rubbish idea,” another said.

“What South Australian has ever cared about rugby?”

But it’s comments like those that don’t sit well with Andrew Unger, who grew up in South Australia and remains a staunch rugby league fan.

“There are clubs all over the state.”

Two middle-aged men with short hair standing under a marquee.Two middle-aged men with short hair standing under a marquee.
Andrew Unger with league legend Mal Meninga.(Facebook: Andrew Unger)

Despite the dominance of AFL, Adelaide has a lengthy history of involvement with Australia’s other main code of football.

The city has produced NRL players, and the short-lived Adelaide Rams participated in the league for one season, in the aftermath of the so-called Super League war in the late 1990s.

While the Rams were a casualty of dwindling attendances and financial hardships, New South Wales Origin coach Brad Fittler pointed to the Melbourne Storm as a side that had achieved immense success outside of rugby league’s traditional heartlands.

“If you go down and play in Melbourne now, you’ve got a very educated crowd,” Fittler told ABC Radio Adelaide.

While sports like Aussie Rules and soccer continue to dominate junior sport numbers in Adelaide, Andrew Unger said rugby league was becoming more popular, particularly among multicultural societies.

“Adelaide’s quite multicultural now. We’re starting to see a lot of Fijians and Papua New Guineans entering clubs,” he said.

“It’s very popular amongst Indigenous Australians and that’s something I’m very proud of because we pushed very hard to get a lot of young Indigenous kids involved.”

Adelaide venue makes match ‘reachable’

Another family embracing the game is the Herring family, from Gum Park station in far-west New South Wales, who are making the 600-kilometre journey to Adelaide for the match.

Kate Herring sitting with her son AngusKate Herring sitting with her son Angus
Kate Herring and her son Angus in their NSW Blues gear.(Supplied)

It might sound like a long way to go, but grazier Kate Herring said having the game in Adelaide actually makes it “reachable”.

“Travelling 2,400 kilometres to Sydney and back for a football game isn’t achievable for us, but travelling to Adelaide for something like this makes it a lot easier to access,” she said.

Recent rainfall in the area has alleviated some of the pressure caused by the ongoing drought, making it possible for the family-of-three to get away.

“This is the first time all three of us have left the station without needing someone there to feed stock or start [water] pumps,” she said.

“It’s been four years since we’ve been anywhere together.

“It’s so exciting, especially because this is the first time my husband and son have been to a live game.”

Women’s game continues to grow

Unger said women’s participation in the game was also really taking off in the state, and junior numbers are also continuing to grow.

A woman wearing a blue and white guernsey runs with a ball under her armA woman wearing a blue and white guernsey runs with a ball under her arm
A player runs with the ball in the NRL SA women’s competition.(Supplied)

“The juniors are coming along in leaps and bounds. There are some fantastic juniors floating around that some big clubs in Sydney are keeping close eyes on.”

While many will still question it, he said the plan to bring the game to Adelaide has been in the works for a while, and he hopes it will help continue to grow the game.

“The idea was first brought up six years ago by the board of directors, and they pushed — especially a couple of people — very hard to get it here,” he said.

“Everyone in the league community in South Australia has been involved in some shape or form, all the clubs have promoted the game.”

Game I of the 2020 State of Origin will be held at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night.