As an adolescent boy yet to discover other life pleasures, State of Origin was the highlight of my calendar year.
The anticipation would build through the entire week leading up to Game One, reaching its epic crescendo on Wednesday afternoon.
That afternoon would be spent playing touch football on the backcourts at school until 6pm, at which point we would go home, shower up, carb-load on spaghetti bolognaise, and drink in Channel Nine’s half-hour pre-Origin primer, hosted by the incomparable Kenny Sutcliffe.
Sadly, this nostalgia is all that I have to go on today. Today’s reality does not match up to yesterday’s blissful ignorance.
Rugby league lives off nostalgia; it relies on it. There’s a reason The Footy Show still exists: it was funny in 1994.
There is an entire generation of adult men in their mid-late 20s through to early 30s who grew up in the greatest era of rugby league.
This era was, of course, the Winfield Cup. Jimmy Barnes and Tina Turner. Wally Lewis’ mustache. Mal Meninga’s forearms. Benny Elias’ headband. Willie Carne’s hair.
We were young enough to remember this era as great. It was an era when blokes remained on the paddock even when they were bleeding profusely from the head – which in retrospect seems somewhat cavalier, given the AIDS crisis of the mid-late 1980s.
But this doesn’t exist anymore. Men who play State of Origin today do not bleed from the face. They don’t have mustaches or overt body hair. And only on the rarest of occasions will they play the full 80 minutes.
The game is pitched to a wider demographic now; the games are screened into new markets. Gone is Tina Turner and in her place is Jessica Mauboy, or someone else maybe, I can’t keep track.
Like those of us born between 1979-1986 who have grown up and taken on full-time employment, State of Origin, too, has matured.
Origin has grown up, as has Dave Edwards. We’re both older and more corporate than we’ve ever been. And that’s probably a reflection of the world we live in.
In fact, Origin is 34 years old now – six years my senior – and, if anything, it looks younger than it did the day it was born in 1980.
So what is there left for me to appreciate tonight? The crushing tackles? The constant threat of violence? The crisp Channel Nine editing? The misguided hope that NSW’s fresh halves pairing can finally stop the Queensland juggernaut in its tracks, despite possessing the creative flair of a Christopher Pyne press conference?
The only thing that keeps me watching Origin, to be honest, is that I’ve always done it – and that I don’t know any better. And, really, that’s quite reassuring in a world of constant flux.
But yeah, go NSW!
By Dave Edwards