State of Origin. Queensland versus New South Wales. 40 years.
It all began when Arthur Beetson ran out for Queensland for the first official Origin game on July 8, 1980. It was Mal Meninga’s 20th birthday and he remembers it well.
“It was a great experience,” Meninga, FOG #4, said.
“I just had a big smile on my face... I just enjoyed the whole experience.
“To actually say that you have played with Arthur Beetson is a fabulous treat, I reckon.
“Just having Arthur around the camp, and also Rod Reddy, it was a pleasure to play with Rocket Reddy. And Rodney Morris, Johnny Lang. All those guys that were playing in Sydney. Greg Oliphant. They’re all good people and it was really good to be around them.”
Meninga, sitting down with Rohan Hancock and Greg Dowling to film Queensland Rugby League's four-part series Masters of the decade, said when Beetson was in the dressing room before the game, it was “the epitome of a person going into battle”.
“The way he used to grease up his eyes and his mouth and his nose and his legs… then all of a sudden he puts the white chalk on… dusts his hands and wipes it on his jersey…. you see as he ran onto the footy field, he was ready for battle,” Meninga said.
“If you weren’t ready for battle you shouldn’t be there. He sort of set the catalyst, I guess, for belief.
“I think that game for a lot of us young fellas was a catalyst to self belief that we could actually match it against the Blues at that time.
“From that game onwards, it’s always been a battle between the two states.”
Meninga, who played for Queensland prior to Origin, said the interstate clash was essentially “dead and buried” before QRL boss Ron McAuliffe and New South Wales Rugby League boss Kevin Humphreys said “yes, let’s have a crack” at this thing called 'State of Origin'.
“I remember playing ’79… the first couple of games in 1980, where we were getting hammered. The game went back to Leichardt Oval with only a couple of thousand people watching us, so it was dead and buried, really. It all hinged on this game,” Meninga said.
It was a game Queensland won 20-10.
“It meant something to everyone that was there, it meant something to Queensland,” Meninga said.
“We celebrated with a few beers.
“The rest is history now. We see what a great beast it is today. The great following it gets. It’s one of our great showpieces for the year.
“It keeps getting better. They’re fitter, they’re stronger, faster these days.”
Masters of the decade is a four-part series that sees 12 Queensland legends sit down and reflect on the four decades of Origin.
Meninga, Hancock and Dowling reflect on the 1980s; Kevin Walters, Ben Ikin and Steve Renouf reflect on the 1990s; Justin Hodges, Darren Lockyer and Petero Civoniceva reflect on the 2000s; and Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott reflect on the 2010s.
Masters of the decade
1980s: Wednesday, October 7 at 7.30pm
Masters of the decade: 1980s
1990s: Wednesday, October 14 at 7.30pm
2000s: Wednesday, October 21 at 7.30pm
2010s: Wednesday, October 28 at 7.30pm