I have been watching my third State of Origin* rugby league series since moving to Australia. From the beginning – and goodness know why because I am a rugby union fan if anything – I have fiercely supported Queensland, my adopted home state. The third and final game of this year's contest was at Lang Park last night: it was one game apiece; the Maroons were going for an historic seventh consecutive title; and the Blues were fighting for their reputation. There was a capacity crowd (52,000) and they were in magnificent voice.
If you wanted to make the most exciting sports-action movie ever, you couldn't have choreographed a more gripping final. New South Wales took a lead of eight points before the Maroons got on the scoreboard. Three tries later Queensland had turned the game around to lead 16–8. Three second-half tries brought the two sides level on 20 points apiece, nine minutes from time. Four minutes later, a long-range field goal (drop goal) by the splendidly named Cooper Cronk gave Queensland a one-point lead. Victory followed after a few more anxious minutes.
Commentators remarked that they had never heard the crowd so gee'd up. I've been to games at Lang Park, including fiercely competitive games such as those between Australia and New Zealand and been amazed at how relatively uninvolved the crowd were, chatting away, going to get beers and food, mate-spotting and bantering with the opposition. They often have to be encouraged to shout for the Reds or the Roar by an MC over the loudspeaker. They don't sing and they chant infrequently. But the wall of sound and atmosphere last night was striking even on the television coverage.
After the siren there was agony and ecstasy: rapturous Maroons and heartbroken Blues; hugging and leaping and the hanging of heads in despair. Was this the best Maroons team ever? The best Origin match ever? The debate probably continued long into the night. But for me – fair-play-Pom and all that – the edge was taken off the whole occasion by the Maroons fans booing the New South Wales players every time they were mentioned during the presentation ceremony. Couldn't they bring themselves to show their appreciation of the team that had ensured the contest was so close and tense and unbearably exciting right up to the last minute? Bad winners is a shocking and alien concept to me. I felt ashamed and embarrassed on behalf of Queensland.
The subject of the Aussies and sport is a big one. I have observed a lot during the last two and a half years; small details and big occasions. For instance, when old foe England loses in any sporting arena, it's usually reported here early on in a news bulletin; whereas an Aussie disappointment is often the last item**. Following the last Ashes series here, I had to conclude that, compared with other cricket fans, the Aussies are bad losers.
But bad winners? Yesterday evening, after the booing, I switched off. It's too early to say whether or not I'll feel the same about the State of Origin again.
**post script (10 July): my UK cricket correspondent reported a couple of days ago on the current ODI series between England and Australia. (I am dependent on foreign coverage, you see, while the Australians aren't doing very well.) England were 3-0 up when he filed, and had won the last match by eight wickets. He talked of English dominance and Australian capitulation; of 'woeful' Aussies batsmen in contrast to a 'very solid' top four for England; of the Australians' much lauded young bowling attack not living up to expectations; and of the game being lost by the time they Watson and Lee left the field injured. Meanwhile, The Australian headline was defying reality: 'David Hussey gives Australia hope in [third} ODI against England'.
post post script (11 July): England have just beaten Australia in the fourth and final ODI at Old Trafford (Manchester) – by seven wickets. This is the first time they have beaten the Aussies 4-0 in any form of the game. 'England seal Australia whitewash', proclaims The Guardian's front page. The news is reported this morning in the Australian press, but you have to look deep in the sports pages. No headlines here.
* a best-of-three annual rugby league series between Queensland and New South Wales. Qualification for the teams depends on where players first played their senior game, hence the name
This post was updated on 11 July 2012