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'Fatty Vautin was the coach... he had no idea who I was'

Dear Queenslanders,

I’m not sure about you but I’m certainly having State of Origin withdrawals at the moment. I don’t get many chances to get completely one-eyed about rugby league these days, except for Origin time, so bring on November I say. 

My first Origin memories date back 1987. I was ten years old and hadn’t even started playing rugby league at that point, and the Maroons were coming off a losing series in 1986.

The 1987 series didn’t start well, we lost the first game, but despite being down 1-nil, Queensland would go on to win, and I was immediately hooked. So much so I actually signed up to start playing the following year.

The Maroons were winning, I was playing the great game, all was right in the world. I even started to dream that maybe one day I could play Origin for Queensland.

Fast forward to 1995 and that dream would be realised. I was 18 years old and in my first year out of high school. The Super League war had just started and having only played three first grade games for the Gold Coast Seagulls, I got the call up.

At the time, I was young, naïve; and only 12 months beforehand, I was playing in the Queensland Under 17 side with Darren Lockyer. We were the curtain raiser to that game where Mark Coyne scored that famous try at the death, so I had gone down there as a junior Queenslander, hung around and watched that great win as a fan – and fast-forward 12 months and I am back down at the SFS playing for Queensland.

Fatty Vautin was the coach... he had no idea who I was, but it didn’t take long for Fatty and team manager, Choppy Close, to help us all understand that wearing the Maroons jersey meant we weren’t just playing for ourselves, but for an entire state.

That first game was a blur. In the middle of the second half we were up 2-0, and I weirdly found myself cheering for Queensland from the bench, like a fan. Then all of a sudden it occurred to me that I might actually have to take the field at some point.

I thought ‘wow, I wonder if the coach will put me on?’ I looked across at Fatty and realised he must have been thinking the same thing and said to me ‘are you ready?’ I’m sure the blood drained out of my face.

I jumped up, said ‘absolutely’, and ended up playing the final 20 minutes. Thankfully, I didn’t lose it for Queensland – which is always a bonus. 

My favourite moment from that series came in the third game at Suncorp Stadium.

I jagged a lucky try off a dropped kick, and after scoring the try, I walked back to my kick-off position and the crowd were on their feet cheering.

I heard the noise that you hear during the game for many things – but then there was that very special moment when I realised that they were cheering me, for having scored that try, and I think I must have swelled with pride... I was very young and that was a pretty special moment.

I got to play 17 games for Queensland. The fact I even got to play one was the fulfilment of a childhood dream, so to do it as many times as I did, I cherish that.

Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images
Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images

The Maroons journey for me was very special. It was nine seasons in total, 1995 to 2003.

There were lots of wins and there were plenty of losses. I got to play with some out-and-out champions and I also played against a few. The State of Origin experience for me came in many forms and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I learnt as much from the failure as I did the success, and I’ve definitely used my Origin experience to make myself a better person post-footy and into the future.

I work in the game now as a commentator with Fox Sports, and I also sit on the board of the Queensland Rugby League, and in both roles I still get an opportunity to be a fan.

Commentators and journalists are meant to have no biases, but that is all forgiven around State of Origin time... that’s the uniqueness of Origin.

The deep fascination with Origin never ceases to amaze me, but I get it, I live it, and I love it.

This year is going to be huge again, especially with the series being stand alone.

When Origin is in the middle of the season there is so much else happening, but this year it’s going to be out there on its own, for three straight weeks, with no competing forces.

I suspect that Origin could be bigger than it’s ever been. I am looking forward to seeing how it unfolds and cheering on the mighty Maroons.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Ikin

FOG #89