NSW, you have some new heroes

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If you’re from the Premier State, State of Origin glory has been an elusive beast for the last decade or so. We’ve barely won a match, let alone a series. I’m not having a go at anyone, and we seem to be picking up some steam at the moment, which is terrific. But by and large, the Blues have struggled to get over the line while the cane toads have powered right through. It’s become an accepted part of life. Every year as it rolls around, we resign ourselves to the inevitable. It would be demeaning, but I feel like a lot of us probably just stopped caring a few years ago, as a coping mechanism if nothing else.

Last night, a new legacy was born. NSW triumphed in the first ever Women’s State Of Origin. Holy moly what a game. With scores tied at 6–6 at halftime, the second half was easily one of the most enjoyable displays of sport in years. This was rugby league at its very best, ladies and gentlemen.

Both teams scored another unconverted try each, leaving the scores tied at ten all with 15 minutes to go. And this was when the Blues kicked into gear. An outstanding second try from Isabelle Kelly in the last 10 minutes set up a beautiful conversion to put them 6 points ahead, and so they turned to a ferocious defence.

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QLD still looked dangerous, as they tried and tried to break through the line. But the group tackle in the dying minutes, where what felt like half the blues came together to stop the Queenslanders from getting over the line and force them into touch instead, said it all really.

There’s no shame in losing to that. This was a team on fire. To be honest, it’s pretty much the same fire which QLD has been burning all over NSW in the men’s league for the past decade. A team that good is just an unstoppable force, the players get into what’s called a ‘froth state’ — a term I believe is derived from surfing lingo — where the magic happens. The plays come together and it all just works.

Look, in all honestly, I even missed the first 20 minutes and the first two tries, but from the replays they looked as sharp as the rest of it. Am I getting carried away here? It’s possible, I’m far from a professional sports analysts. But I know a good game when I see it.

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This wasn’t just about girls having a go, it actually felt better than the Men’s game, I think in the same way the Shute Shield feels better than the Super League. It is somehow more human, more relatable. In the highest levels of the men’s games, they feel more like platonic ideas of athletes, rather than people playing with a ball. Even the setting for this — The humble community field of North Sydney Oval — felt like an classic night out for the family. And while it was certainly hard and fast, it wasn’t a celebration of testosterone specifically, which is a toxic trap these things can often fall into. Until now, State of Origin has glorified a mythology steeped in brute masculinism. Turns out, when you take the silly theatrics away, you can focus on just playing some bloody good rugby.

And in the month of the soccer world cup, I’ve gotta say, it’s nice to see people be able to run in to each other without deliberately faking some kind of horribly exaggerated injury. There was a pretty late tackle after a kick at one point, and it was rough, but it wasn’t mean, and there was no whistle. It was good refereeing too — perhaps that’s another reason it felt like such a great game. There were some humongous hits, but everyone got up and the game went on — which is more than you can say for most Rugby Union these days.

As you’d expect, the stands were packed with families and plenty of young girls, watching the game they love in a whole newly accessible way. After the WAFL, the Women’s’ big bash, and the trophies of our national sides in sports from soccer to rugby 7s, it’s great that this is quickly becoming the norm.

If you were born in the last 20 years in NSW, watching Origin has generally been through your fingers. We’ve literally won ONE series in the last 12 years The team last night inspired a jaded generation of fans who had started to forget what cheering feels like, and inspired a whole new generation, to believe that they can go out and give it as good as anyone.

Here’s hoping the men can back it up on Sunday.

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