There's no such thing as 'just' 1 Origin

There's no such thing as 'just' 1 Origin

It's a funny phrase: 'Just' the one Origin.

As our world becomes more obsessed with statistics, the easily quantifiable, and punditry becomes the domain of anyone with a social media account, players become increasingly open to this type of flippant summation.

But let's face it – one State of Origin appearance is one more than all but a fraction of us could ever hope for.

One State of Origin game is the type of dream that creeps into minds in the silent hours of the night, whether dreamt up by a child far too young, or the fantasy of grown adults well beyond their athletic prime.

'Just' one State of Origin game could proudly sustain your legacy over a lifetime.

With Billy Slater headed for his 30th Origin appearance in Game I of this year's series, and Cameron Smith stepping down with 42 games beside his name, it's easy to be tempted to rank people by numbers.

Yet to do so is fraught by danger – for multiple reasons.

Because if we are honest, 'just' one Origin appearance is the infinitesimally small tip of the iceberg, masking a gigantic formation between the surface.

'Just' one Origin comes after spending most weekends and thousands of weeknights as a child, sweating, panting and chasing around a field while others are with friends, or watching TV, or doing something else in the comfortable surrounds of their home.

It comes after your parents pour unknown hours and dollars into new boots, petrol, fund-raisers, the latest cap of your favourite team and then, in six months' time, new boots again when you've outgrown or destroyed the first lot.

'Just' one Origin is the result of an adolescence where society asks you to become an expert on matters which people three times your age struggle to command:

Knowing when to leave the party. Knowing how to build and sustain relationships when your free time is at a minimum. Discovering the maximum potential of your body. Discovering the power of your mind. In many cases, having the courage to leave family and friends behind.

You only achieve 'just' one Origin after you show up to a succession of trials – elite schoolboy games, junior development squads, your first senior training session – and at each step the other athletes become faster, fitter, stronger and more confident.

It's about standing in the middle of a pack of 40 or 50 candidates and believing you will persevere when the others fall by the wayside, that you and you alone can win the next sprint drill, or cardio test, or gym task.

And the absolute hardest task is convincing yourself of this, when you know full well every other player in the group is thinking the same thing.

They will fight tooth and nail for their dream too.

One Origin game comes after you make it on to a part-time contract or retainer, after you work your way through to the extended squad of an NRL team, after you brace yourself for the excitement of your NRL debut.

Remember that this is no average workplace. Each week you will be asked to put yourself through collisions, accelerations, decelerations and high-pressure spur-of-the-moment decisions.

That never changes the whole way through. Week-after-week, year-after-year.

'Just' one Origin arrives usually after several seasons in the goldfish bowl of the NRL, where being selected each week is a monumental task of its own.

It's about proving your mettle, biding your time, pushing past injury and being ready when the slender window of opportunity reveals itself.

I was in the crowd at Lang Park when Alan Cann made his solitary Origin appearance in 1996.

At 18, it was the first Origin where I could buy my own ticket. I recall dropping most of a week's wage so I could get the best tickets possible. I could only afford one in that section, so went solo, sitting alone in the stand specifically to watch Cann play.

He was my rugby league hero as a child and I'd waited through seven seasons of him playing first grade – including two premierships for Brisbane - for that moment.

Cann came off the bench. Queensland lost. He was never selected for the Maroons again.

Despite the result, I went home that night buzzing. I'd been inspired to taste that atmosphere again, through whatever means possible.

That was the sensation for me as a spectator. One can only imagine what must course through the veins of those who pull on the jersey and take the field.

Behind every Queensland player to play 'just' one Origin is not only the immense chronicle of sacrifice and effort in their lifetime, but also the impression they make upon others.

Adrian Vowles played one Origin game. He has a junior carnival named in his honour that encourages children from remote areas of western Queensland to play the sport.

Allan Smith played one Origin game. He became a long-serving Origin selector for the state, presiding over Queensland's most dominant interstate period.

Antonio Kaufusi played one Origin. There is no doubt that in some way he has shaped the belief and ambitions of his younger brother Felise, who stands a strong chance of debuting this year.

The list of men who have played 'just' one Origin game is littered with lifetime achievers.

Some were men who helped bridge the history between the former insterstate format and the Origin period; marked forever as having played one Origin, but who truthfully represented Queensland many times over.

Some were men who were the lifeblood of their clubs, both in their playing days and afterwards.

Some were men who became coaches and officials, repaying to the game what it gave to them many times over.

And some were simply good people and role models, who lit a spark in the eyes of others.

In honour of:
Bruce ASTILL
Matt BALLIN
Arthur BEETSON
Terry BUTLER
Alan CANN
Owen CUNNINGHAM
Nathan FIEN
Greg HOLBEN
Antonio KAUFUSI
John LANG
Danny NUTLEY
Greg OLIPHANT
Graham QUINN
Rod REDDY
Grant RIX
Scott SATTLER
Allan SMITH
Gary SMITH
David STAGG
Scott TRONC
Adrian VOWLES
Bruce WALKER