What is the best State of Origin rivalry of all time?

State of Origin has laid claim to being the greatest rivalry in sport ever since Arthur Beetson led the Maroons to a 20-10 victory at Lang Park in 1980.

Queensland, sick of being beaten by NSW sides that boasted their best players, welcomed the 'Origin' concept and dominated the first four years of the showpiece event.

The individual rivalries that have flourished since are part of Origin folklore. NRL.com has listed 10 of the best.

Arthur Beetson v Graeme Wynn

In his autobiography Beetson put to bed the enduring myth of his supposed 'mate against mate' punch on Eels teammate Mick Cronin in the inaugural Origin clash in 1980, but he let Wynn have it with a series of uppercuts that in no uncertain terms showcased what playing for the Maroons meant to him. Referring to the Wynn confrontation, the late Dick 'Tosser' Turner was quoted in Beetson's autobiography as saying "the moment Arthur stood up to be counted against the enemy of ours was the most important event in the history of State of Origin".

Match: Maroons v Blues

Game 1 -

Full Time
Maroons

Home Team

Maroons

Scored 18 points
Blues

Away Team

Blues

Scored 14 points

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Match broadcasters:

  • Nine Network

Wally Lewis v Brett Kenny

Lewis has said on several occasions that Kenny was the best player he ever saw in State of Origin football. That is no surprise considering NSW won eight of the 12 Origin games where Kenny and Lewis were opposing five-eighths. The duo boasted a contrast in styles and temperaments but both ruled supreme in the 1980s for their respective sides. Lewis won eight man of the match awards in Origin and Kenny just one, but that does not reflect the colossal battles the two had and the impact both had on their team's fortunes.

Wally Lewis v Mark Geyer

Geyer only played three games for NSW in the Origin arena but the verbal eyeball-to-eyeball stoush with Lewis in game two at the SFS in 1991 has etched him in Origin folklore. Geyer was a heat-seeking missile who said he had been given instructions to push the boundaries of legal play and in the moments before half-time dropped his forearm on Steve Walters while he was on the ground. A melee ensued, with Geyer and Lewis in the thick of it and mouthing off at each other with gusto.

It was then that referee David Manson, with rain belting down, unleashed some classic lines of his own. "I don't usually raise my voice on the football field, but I said very loudly to them, 'Do you want time?' …As in time in the sin bin," Manson told Rugby League Week in 2014.

"They both paused and looked at me. Then I said, 'Well I want some time. I want some time out of this rain. That'll do us for half-time'. Wally then chased after Mark, and the only person that got hit in the whole incident was Wally … when I shouldered him out of the way."

The photo of Geyer and Lewis blasting each other is one that Manson has seen plenty of times since, with members of the public seeking his autograph. "I would have signed about 200 of them over the years," he said. "I said to my wife that I would like $1 each time that incident is played. I respected all players. Both those gentlemen, even though they were pumped up, never gave me any great concern."

Carl Webb v Luke Bailey

Former Maroons enforcer Carl Webb.
Former Maroons enforcer Carl Webb. ©NRL Photos

Origin's history and rivalry is reinforced by iconic images and one that remains etched in the memory is of Maroons enforcer Carl Webb, with a letter 'Q' shaved into his skull, grabbing NSW prop Luke Bailey by the throat as he lay on the Suncorp Stadium turf in game one of the 2005 series. Webb had thrown the kitchen sink at Bailey in three titanic collisions and given him a massive spray to boot. Bailey had the last laugh by the series end, with NSW winning 2-1, but the incident still grated on the then St George Illawarra warhorse 12 months on.  

"Yeah, I got touched up a bit, but the way it was portrayed, it was all Carl Webb teaching me a lesson," Bailey told the Sydney Morning Herald a year later. 

"That's just footy. There were three touches involved and only one of them I dropped the ball. After the game I was filthy, but everyone gets dusted up once or twice."

Ben Elias v Steve Walters

Elias got under the skin of just about every player to wear a Maroons jersey but it was his rivalry with Walters that was a hot topic during any of the clashes the pair had in the early 1990s.

Elias was filthy Walters "stole" his Test jersey and was not shy of telling reporters how much he hated the Canberra rake. Walters reminded Elias that he had "a Test to play next week" on one famous Origin occasion just to rub it in.  

It all came to a head in game three of 1993 at Lang Park when Walters and Elias were binned by referee Greg McCallum after having a set-to. "There are two blokes that don't like each other … Walters and Elias," Paul Vautin said in commentary. Never a truer word spoken.

Paul Harragon v Martin Bella

Blues great Paul Harragon.
Blues great Paul Harragon. ©NRL Photos

There was simmering tension between Harragon and Bella in their Origin confrontations and 'The Chief', five year Bella's junior, made a point of announcing the new Blues guard in game three of the 1993 series at Lang Park. Both were sin-binned after exchanging blows in a stoush that remains one for the ages.

Channel Nine commentator Darrell Eastlake said "look at the eyes on Bella. He's fired up big Marty… and The Chief says 'if you want to go, I'll go with you'."

Allan Langer v Ricky Stuart

The rivalry between Stuart and Langer was one of mutual respect but both showcased their own wizardry on the Origin stage against each other in five series between 1990 and 1994, years where both were at the peak of their powers in club football for Canberra and Brisbane respectively. The duo's rivalry extended to the Test sphere where Stuart replaced Langer on consecutive Kangaroo tours as the starting number seven.

Laurie Daley v Mal Meninga

A classic 'mate versus mate' rivalry existed between Daley and Meninga. It came to the fore in 1992 when the 22-year-old Daley was appointed captain of NSW, up against his Canberra and Test captain.

Daley got an initiation into Origin football in his NSW debut in 1989 when Meninga towelled him up, or as Daley later put it to The Daily Telegraph: "he carved me".

One of the most memorable clashes between the two came four years later when Daley rounded up Meninga in the final minute of game two in cover defence to clinch the series. The pair were to continue their rivalry off the field as coaches of NSW and Queensland respectively where Meninga held the edge 2-1 in the three series that they faced off in.

Wayne Bennett v Phil Gould

Bennett won five series and Gould triumphed in six as coaches of Queensland and NSW respectively. Both highly competitive and regarded by both states as the best of the best, it was not until 2002 that they coached against each other for the first time.

Bennett's Maroons prevailed courtesy of a Dane Carlaw try to secure a draw in game three of the series before Gould turned the tables the following year. It was their towering presence on the Origin arena, and contrasting styles and personalities, that added to the mystique and appeal of Origin.

Johnathan Thurston v Mitchell Pearce

Johnathan Thurston and Mitchell Pearce.
Johnathan Thurston and Mitchell Pearce. ©Robb Cox./NRL Photos

The rivalry between Thurston and Pearce is noted as much for its longevity as for its lopsidedness. From 2008 until 2017 Pearce played 17 of his 18 Origin games against Thurston but won only five and did not play in a winning series in any.

The competitive tension between the two reached boiling point at the end of game three in 2015 when Pearce told Thurston he was "old". Thurston did not let that go through to the keeper and returned serve in a heated exchange.

"Oh, I just let Pearcey know he should probably get a photo with Wally's statue (outside Suncorp Stadium) because that's the closest he was going to get to holding the shield," Thurston told Triple M at the time.

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