The state of State of Origin
As the season goes on, the All-Australian debate will continue to heat up. And as is the case every year, an unlucky few will miss out.
Selection is an inexact science. It’s not as easy as awarding the Coleman Medal, where the winner is simply decided based on who leads one statistical category.
While the league’s leading goalkicker is all but assured a place in the team, piecing together an All-Australian forward line requires a balance of talls and smalls while also considering the value of other contributions such as score involvements and marks inside 50, to name a few.
And, of course, there’s a pretty fair chance a pure midfielder will wind up in one of the half-forward spots due to the star power of the position and limited space available in the on-ball division.
There’s always a strong case to be made for a handful of guys at every position who miss the cut but when it’s all said and done it is generally pretty tough to argue any All-Australian is undeserving.
Nitpicking is easy but the selectors do a pretty good job of getting it right. Minor quibbles about why Player A is more worthy than Player B are more often a case of personal preference than any overwhelming statistical analysis.
One regular point of contention, however, is whether the team has room for specialised positions in any given year.
When taggers were in vogue, did they warrant consideration for negating the opposition’s most damaging player?
And should the team carry two ruckmen – or at the very least a tall forward who could pinch-hit around the clearances?
What has become clear is that a player who fits into either mould would need to have had a truly dominant season to get a serious look in.
The crux of the argument against selecting players to fill these roles is often that they are unnecessary in a team that doesn’t actually play against anybody.
What good is a tagger when there’s nobody to tag? Why include a second ruckman when the starting big man has no chance of getting hurt?
Fair call, I guess. But let’s save that debate for another day.
Instead, let’s focus on the idea of reviving State of Origin and how it could be integrated with the All-Australian selection process.
As it stands, the initial All-Australian squad starts with 40 players – a fairly arbitrary number – and is later whittled down to 22.
But what if we took a different approach. What if, the Monday after the end of the home-and-away season, selectors sat down and chose two teams (let’s say, Victoria and the Allies), with the intention of those sides squaring off against one another (let’s say, the Thursday night before the Grand Final – more on that in a minute).
That would give us a selection pool of 44 players – hard to imagine there’d be any outrage over the slight increase in squad size – and players who fill specialised roles would at least warrant consideration since there’s a game to be played.
Selectors would then go about filling out the All-Australian team as they do now, with no discernible differences except for the extra four players in the initial squad.
As an aside, following this process would also highlight the birth states of the final All-Australian team members. Not exactly a huge deal, but perhaps it might provide a nice talking point and an extra layer of intrigue nonetheless. Couldn’t hurt, right?
As for the idea of playing representative football in Grand Final week, obviously this would be subject to many factors – including the approval of the players.
We’d need to be sure they are actually in favour of Origin’s revival before even trying to get them to sign off on playing the game a month after most of the them wrapped things up at the end of the home-and-away season.
And granted, according to this proposal, many of them could be enjoying Mad Monday festivities the day the initial Origin teams were selected.
But let’s just say they were all for it.
Let’s say they agreed playing representative football made sense at the end of the season, rather than risking injury in the middle of a premiership race or in the preseason when their focus is on getting their bodies right for a gruelling year ahead.
Let’s say the ones who were interested in playing didn’t mind scheduling their holiday plans around the possibility they’d have the chance to pull on a state guernsey during Grand Final week.
The 44 players chosen for the All-Australian squad would provide the framework for each team.
Those guys get the honour of being selected to represent their state; whether they take part is secondary to that.
Obviously those whose teams make it to the Grand Final wouldn’t participate. Nor would any player who has been waiting until season’s end to address that niggling injury. Same goes for anyone who’d prefer to rest their body or take that overseas holiday they’ve been hanging out for. No judgments here.
Leave it to the respective Origin coaches to find replacements. Shouldn’t be much of an issue making up the numbers.
And it’s hard to imagine fans not rallying to support a Thursday night Origin fixture – particularly with the Friday now a public holiday in Victoria – as a perfect lead-in to the AFL’s biggest day.