Blues in the blood ... Maroons to the bone

I HAVE watched every one of the 99 State of Origin games played, many live, but quite a few tucked up at home with my long-suffering wife, Ange. And I reckon I could count on one hand the games that left me cold, and were a disappointing spectacle.

My wife and I were both born in NSW, we met in NSW and we married in NSW. And both our sons were born in NSW.

Why then, people ask, do we support Queensland? Why do Ange and I ritually don our Maroon jerseys each Origin night (her's with Wally Lewis printed across the back)? Why, in our case, is Origin not origin?

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Because of big Artie Beetson, that's why. And because of Wally, Bryan Niebling, Mark Murray, Gary Belcher, Andrew Gee, Billy Moore, Shane Webcke, Darren Lockyer, Brad Thorn, Petero Civoniceva and a few others, who have become family friends.

My passion for the Queensland Origin team materialised from the get go. And it was as simple as being in the right place at the right time.

Early in 1980, the year the Origin concept kicked off, I was appointed Queensland Editor of Rugby League Week magazine, a publication that in its heyday was referred to as The Bible. At its peak we sold 100,000 copies every week.

My national editor was rugby league tragic Geoff Prenter, the bloke who founded the magazine a decade earlier. He was an enthusiastic backer of the Origin concept, and his enthusiasm was infectious. As a publication we promoted the first game like it was our very own baby.

However no promotion, no PR twist, no advertising agency and no media saturation could have delivered the X-factor better than Big Artie Beetson did that first night. He may have played just the one game, but his was the defining Origin performance.

Beetson was 35 when named as Maroons skipper in 1980. That is relatively old even by today's standards - back then it was vintage. And he had played some reserve grade that year for Parramatta, so he was far from at his peak.

But his performance on the night was inspirational. By whacking Eels team mate Mick Cronin and slipping an uppercut into Graeme Wynn in retaliation for a cheap shot on Queensland halfback Greg Oliphant, Artie also allayed fears the game was nothing more than a PR stunt.

And recently-revealed statistics show just why Beetson kick-started Origin football. He made 19 tackles, ran 98 metres and produced a match-high seven off-loads.

The big man was a colossus, and this newly-arrived Queenslander was hooked.

In a field of 429 to date, Wally Lewis is the best Origin player I have seen in those 99 games. But Arthur Beetson has been the most influential.

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