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Why this Origin week is different to all others

Make no bones about it, there are still some people who don't want Friday night's Holden Women's State of Origin to happen.

There are people who have said as much in private this week, and predictably, there will be similar responses in the comments section of this article when it is posted online.

They don't want it happening live on prime-time TV; don't want it happening under the State of Origin banner; don't want the women playing to such all...ever.

It's why the contest looms as an event where there will be a defiant victory well before fulltime.

Queenslanders love nothing more than an underdog story, of a group which threatens to be squashed underfoot, turning around and giving a salute to the disbelievers and detractors.

On a packed representative weekend, Friday night's Women's Origin fixture is the most difficult not to fall in love with.

And that's saying something.

The Pacific Test event, which will happen at Campbelltown on Saturday night, has been one of the most glorious and passionate adverts for rugby league in recent years.

There's a Test match happening in Denver, USA between England and New Zealand that holds immense potential for the game's growth.

There are Queensland v New South Wales match-ups in touch football, Universities and Residents guises – pitting the best of our Intrust Super Cup up against the Blues' own state competition.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that there will also be the unflinching behemoth of rugby league – men's State of Origin.

It'll be played on Sunday evening this time around, with the Maroons down 0-1 in the series and battling all types of injuries, hurdles and disruptions.

Just how us Queenslanders like it.

Yet, while all the cameras and journalists may have been at the men's Origin training sessions this week, the best story happened Tuesday evening at humble Brandon Park, Acacia Ridge.

Harvey Norman clinic: Putting a smile on girls' faces

To see almost 200 young girls form a tunnel as Queensland's female representatives arrived to the suburbs, chanting 'Queenslander' and then having the chance to spend two hours playing and chatting with their idols, was the stuff of magic.

It was a chilly evening and growing dark. The Queensland team had already trained, attended a luncheon and been shipped around by bus all day.

They were three days out from arguably the biggest moment of their sporting lives.

And how did they react to having to front up at the Harvey Norman Girls' Clinic?

With not only humility and aplomb, but with decided generosity and sincerity gushing from their hearts.

Maitua Feterika – witnessed less than two weeks earlier absolutely destroying anything that moved at the National Championships – spent most of her time at the clinic dancing and laughing with children.

Queensland veteran and skipper Karina Brown was obliging with any request that came her way, as was anybody else for that matter

They stepped into drills being run by NRL Development Officers and tackled, encouraged and offloaded directly to kids with stars in their eyes.

When it all wound up, they implored children and parents to sing a happy birthday chant to rookie Mariah Storch (who described playing for Queensland as "bloody unreal") and stuck around to sign as many pieces of apparel as they could.

In all, the Queensland Women's Origin team behaved as you would expect any team would if they had spent a century fighting for equal recognition on the field.

They behaved in the grateful manner befitting a group of women who juggle motherhood, weekday work and volunteer commitments, but who are also on the verge of consolidating their position as national celebrities.

If you'd spent most of your sporting career paying to represent your state and country, often being relegated to curtain-raisers for lower-grade men's games, you'd probably be thankful too.

In that regard, the scenes at Tuesday's clinic were not a shock, but it was both momentous and refreshing to be a present for.

Professionalism has bred an increasing cynicism and veneer between fans and athletes – across all sports

But the Women's State of Origin event is positioned at the perfect crossroads.

It maintains all the fuzzy-hearted, direct-contact, personal emotions of community-based sport, yet is gaining the momentum and publicity that makes it one of the most entertaining tickets in town.

My wife, who began playing rugby league late last year, walked into her first training session off the street and was taught how to tackle by current Queensland and Australian representative Heather Ballinger.

That wasn't a one-off. Heather is there nearly every session, similar to how all the other Queensland players train with their local amateur club.

How many sports give you the chance to play and train alongside international reps from the first week you sign up?

In my wife's home nation of Brazil, the country's leading football stars have entourages, security and are rarely seen out in public.

She is still amazed that in Australia you can walk up to a rugby league player and ask for his or her autograph.

And she's even more surprised that most Australians have the respect not to mob them if they are out to dinner or walking with family, which keeps it a sustainable scenario.

Women's rugby league stretches right back to the early 1900s, where there were one-off exhibitions held in several seasons, but it's only in the last 30 years it has been regularly played on a fixture basis.

What's fascinating for sports buffs is that watching the emergence of women's rugby league is remarkably similar to what being present for the foundation years of men's rugby league must have been like.

What is old is new again. It's a chance to hop in a time machine and ride the excitement of the code flourishing at rapid speed.

Historic meeting of women's and men's Origin teams

There are times the women have had to rebel against authority, stage games in secrecy and coerce referees when governing bodies and insurance companies wouldn't support them – just like the men when they broke away from rugby union.

Just as men's rugby league in Queensland began primarily in certain employment sectors – notably railway workers – the women's game started out dominated by police officers, prison wardens, transport and defence force personnel, but has rapidly diversified as a sport for everyone.

There are still players being picked for Australia directly from clubs in 'the bush', and this year's inaugural NRLW competition will start with four teams – the exact number of teams the Brisbane Rugby League began with in 1909.

Even casual followers would know that female interstate contests are not new, yet this is the first time it will be classified as 'State of Origin' – and the first time it will be broadcast free-to-air on a Friday night.

As the QRL Media team travelled to Sydney yesterday, the comments from passengers on the plane, from airport and hotel staff were at least equally split between chatter about men's and women's Origin, if not slightly in favour of the women.

It's the wildcard, what marketing boffins might call the 'unique selling point', or 'point of difference' surrounding State of Origin in 2018, as compared to previous years.

It's what Russell Crowe might describe as "being in the zeitgeist".

Whatever it is, it's a lot of fun.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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